Breast cancer remains a significant global health concern, affecting millions of lives each year. While advancements in screening technology and treatment options have undoubtedly improved outcomes, patient compliance with regular screenings remains a significant challenge. In light of this crucial concern, a distinguished panel of radiologists, medical professionals, and patient advocates assembled to engage in a comprehensive discussion aimed at devising effective strategies to enhance breast health screening compliance and promote early detection of breast cancer.
Focusing on a multifaceted approach to nurturing screening adherence that is centered around the patient, ease of access, trust and the criticality of early screenings could collectively work towards improving breast cancer screening rates and saving lives.
“I firmly believe that fostering patient compliance with regular breast health screenings is not just a healthcare imperative, but a collective responsibility,” stated Lesley Bradshaw, Vice President and General Manager of Mammography in the U.S. and Canada at GE HealthCare. “It is an imperative to prioritize the patient, access for all, and early screening in order to make a significant impact in saving lives and improving breast cancer outcomes. Working together across industry, advocacy groups, patients, and providers, we can educate, empower individuals, break down barriers, and create a culture where proactive breast health becomes a fundamental aspect of every woman’s well-being."
Empowering women to be proactive about their health
Shifting the narrative from simply participation to patient empowerment is an important first step in encouraging women to make their screening appointments. Recognizing that breast health screenings are deeply personal experiences, the conversation needs to be more impactful and centered around educating on the importance of screening mammograms. Cultivating an open dialogue around patients' concerns, fears, and different barriers to screening is also imperative. By adopting a patient-centered approach, healthcare providers can actively engage patients in shared decision-making, building trust, and rapport to encourage regular screenings.
“It all begins with education and communication,” said Corrine Ellsworth-Beaumont, MFA, Ph.D., and Founder of Know Your Lemons. “If patients don’t understand the importance of getting mammograms, they are never going to book that appointment. We make our educational materials available to imaging centers and hospitals so that they can educate their communities about the importance of mammograms. We’re eager to partner with healthcare organizations for that very reason, to help get these educational tools to the communities so more people will book their first mammogram.”
Educating patients about the importance of breast health screenings is essential for empowering them to engage in proactive breast health care. Providing clear and accurate information about the benefits of a mammography procedure, and the potential outcomes of screenings can help dispel myths and misconceptions. Individualizing care is equally important. Providing information and education about various risk factors for breast cancer, such as genetic history or having dense breast tissue, is critical to improving screening compliance and may impact cancer detection rates.
Understanding the power of personal experience and community
Patient veteran Asha Miller shared her own personal experience in getting to screening and indicated that in addition to guiding a patient’s clinical care journey, being aware of the patient’s mental health associated with her breast health is equally important. Miller shared a recent experience of recently returning for an MRI exam, where she was asked if there was a chance that she was pregnant. While the question is standard, a more personal experience could have been curated had she been seen as a “whole patient,” and her provider would have seen from her chart that she had already had a hysterectomy. It’s important that physicians treat a patient as a whole person throughout their journey, from the initial meeting to understanding their genetic predisposition to breast cancer or during the cancer staging.
“It’s these experiences, every interaction with a patient’s caregivers and clinicians, that impacts their care journey. Recognizing that each patient is unique and tailoring approaches to meet their specific needs and circumstances is crucial.”
Cati Diamond Stone, Vice President of Community Health at Susan G. Komen and breast cancer survivor stressed the point that “it’s also important that providers provide welcoming environments that make a clinical experience feel less clinical. A warm robe or comfortable waiting room chair can make all the difference and even help patients feel better about coming back the next year for another screening.”
Community plays a large part in encouraging women to engage in their breast care and participate in annual screenings. It can also play a part in discouraging those activities as well.
“Community is a very powerful communication tool,” said Cecilia Olson, (Breast Cancer Advocate and GE HealthCare employee). “We need to challenge the ecosystem and ensure that women can open their eyes and know that at their screening, there will be someone caring for them and ensuring they have a good experience. Unfortunately, we know that someone who had a bad experience will talk to more than 25 women, and the woman who had a good experience will only talk to ten.”
“So, your face, your engagement, how you speak to us, how you care for us, and even the questions that you may ask, can influence our experience and keep us coming back,” Miller added.
Redesigning the mammography experience for patients with technology that is comfortable for patients, with the potential to reduce the anxiety frequently caused by the stress of the exam can provide a more empathetic experience. Some screening facilities have also been redesigned with lighting and design touches that create a calming, less clinical environment for patients and provide opportunities for open communication with clinicians. The panelists agreed that clinicians’ communication efforts to relay information about the screening technology, environment, and importance of breast health screenings could be equally influential in the community.
“Communication with patient communities from trusted sources is so important,” added “In addition to our patient advocacy efforts, our imaging technologists and our radiologists are influencers in the community who can be out there sharing their stories about why it’s important to get people in for screenings, and people will listen.”
Embracing preventative health and breaking down barriers to care
Shifting the narrative using semantics toward a mindset of “preventative health” instead of an annual “cancer screening” can be a simple yet critical step in improving breast health screening compliance. But achieving widespread compliance also requires addressing barriers to access that exist within healthcare systems. There’s a need for improved and increased awareness campaigns promoting breast health, most importantly, ensuring that patients from all types of racial and cultural backgrounds have access to accurate information about breast health screenings in an easy-to-digest format and in the right language. In addition, patients must contend with overcoming financial and time constraints, transportation challenges, childcare and work issues, and cultural barriers that impact access to screening. Focused attention on individualized care, providing flexibility for screenings and follow-up care, and understanding patient communities are vital strategies to enhance accessibility and inclusivity, ultimately increasing screening rates.
“We recognize the vital importance of patient engagement in prioritizing preventative measures for breast health,” said Stone. “By instilling a proactive mindset early on and encouraging regular screenings, we can empower individuals to take control of their well-being. Our collective efforts can pave the way for a future where early detection becomes the norm, leading to improved outcomes and a healthier society."
Underscoring the importance of early screenings as the key to saving lives
Early detection is vital in improving breast cancer treatment outcomes and survival rates. Raising awareness about the benefits of early screenings, understanding risk factors for breast cancer, and educating individuals about potential signs and symptoms can encourage them to take proactive steps toward their breast health and actively engage in their care journey.
By increasing patient focus, addressing access barriers, and highlighting the importance of early screenings, healthcare providers, patient advocates, and individuals can collaborate to promote timely detection and improve breast cancer outcomes.
“Through increased awareness, education, and a shared commitment to patient well-being,” concluded Bradshaw, “we can strive to ensure that breast health screenings become an integral part of every individual's healthcare journey, ultimately saving lives and advancing the fight against breast cancer.”
For more information about Susan G. Komen Foundation, click here
For more information about the Know Your Lemons Foundation, click here