Breast cancer kills about 40,000 women every year, but a new program is trying to raise awareness of the disease in parts of the city that need it most. NY1’s Erin Clarke filed this report.
Mirium Begum moved to the U.S. from Bangladesh about a year ago.
At age 59, she'd never heard of breast cancer and didn't know what a mammogram was.
"Back in Bangladesh, I used to see friends or relatives or acquaintances who were taken to the hospital, have surgery and their breasts removed,” Begum says through a translator. “I didn't really understand why that was happening to them or what was going on."
Friday, she was one of about 20 women who got their first screening in something called “the Scan Van.”
It's a mobile mammography program run by the non-profit Project Renewal that travels the five boroughs with staff who speak several different languages, offering mammograms free of charge.
“Although we've made great strides in bringing women into screening mammography and finding breast cancers in early stages, there are some pockets of the population that are not receiving that type of early intervention," says the Scan Van’s director, Mary Solomon.
South Asians—specifically, Bangladeshi people—are one such community.
Among the 8,000 to 10,000 who live in the Bronx, many are women and recent immigrants who, like Begum, don’t talk about breast health.
"We have a lot of cultural barriers in our community as well. Mostly religious-based," says Ilora Rafique, board member of SAPNA NYC.
"They don't like to do it, have to open clothes so that the one thing. They don't want to do for religion and for our cultural, like it's little bit shy," says Bronx resident Kazi Begum.
SAPNA NYC, an organization that's been working on health issues in the community, partnered with the Scan Van for just that reason.
SAPNA's South Asian Breast Health Awareness Program teaches women about the disease and then women equiped with that knowledge teach others and encourage them to come aboard the Scan Van.
"They've done their screenings themselves. They're able to share with their colleagues and their friends,” says Rafique. “It dispells a lot of myths."
"Every step of the way there's someone speaking with them in a language they understand," one woman says.
That's the goal of every Scan Van visit —work with the community to give patients service who otherwise wouldn't get it.
For more information, call 1-800-564-6868.