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Wyoming ranks last in breast cancer screenings but one state-wide nonprofit is trying to change that

A group of men and women stand and smile at the camera in a hospital with a 3D mammography machine in the background. Two people hold a red ribbon across the group and a woman in an orange blazer stands in front of the ribbon with a pair of oversized red scissors.
Wyoming Breast Cancer Initiative
Jeanna Stewart of the Wyoming Breast Cancer Initiative cuts a ribbon at the 3D Mammography Suite at SageWest Riverton. WBCI recently visited SageWest Riverton to celebrate a new partnership with the Riverton Chamber of Commerce and to highlight breast cancer screening opportunities in Fremont County and beyond.

When it comes to breast cancer, an early diagnosis can make a big difference. According to the American Cancer Society, women who have breast cancer and were diagnosed in its earliest, localized stages are, on average, 99 percent as likely to live for at least five years after being diagnosed as women without the cancer. So, the Wyoming Breast Cancer Initiative (WBCI) wants to help more people stay on top of their breast exams, especially those in more rural parts of the state.

According to WBCI executive director Kelly Morgan, Wyoming is currently ranked last when it comes to rates of breast cancer screenings for women over fifty. She said difficulties in accessing medical care play a big role in that ranking.

“People know they need to get their screenings, but the hospital may be a hundred miles away. That’s a big deterrent,” she said.

Morgan said cultural and socio-economic barriers may also keep people from getting screened. That’s why helping make breast cancer screenings more economically accessible is a big part of WBCI’s work.

The nonprofit partners with the Wyoming Department of Health's Wyoming Cancer Program to provide free breast cancer screenings beyond what the state can provide. The Department of Health can providefree screenings to those who are over 40, uninsured, and who have a gross household income of at or below 250 percent below the federal poverty level.

Those who don’t fall under that criteria can receive coverage from WBCI. Morgan said the partnership’s dual application provides support to applicants and really opens up the screenings to a much wider pool of people.

“An individual can actually apply for help with their breast screenings, diagnostic imaging, such as their ultrasound or MRI, and even biopsies, regardless of gender, age, insurance, or income,” she said.

Morgan said that broader range of coverage is especially important, since breast cancer is being detected more in younger women. The application is available online in both English and Spanish.

WBCI also supports breast cancer awareness and education projects throughout the state through their Community Grants and Mini Grants. Over the last eight years, the nonprofit has contributed a million dollars in grant funding to support screenings and awareness events that have impacted all of Wyoming’s twenty-three counties.

When it comes to spreading the word about breast cancer awareness, WBCI goes to events like rodeos, Rotary Club meetings, and the Wyoming State Fair. Morgan said she hopes the organization can eventually get a mobile mammography van to help reach people in more rural parts of the state.

“With that, we actually get to tap into these different counties and help women and men with their breast imaging needs. We're just trying to get the word out to raise money and see if we can partner with other companies or imaging centers to get that mammo van up and running,” she said.

WBCI recently visited SageWest Riverton’s 3D mammography suite to celebrate a new partnership with the Riverton Chamber of Commerce and to highlight breast cancer screening opportunities in Fremont County and beyond. The nonprofit will also host three Pink Ribbon Runs this August in Casper, Cheyenne, and Riverton.

Hannah Habermann is the rural and tribal reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. She has a degree in Environmental Studies and Non-Fiction Writing from Middlebury College and was the co-creator of the podcast Yonder Lies: Unpacking the Myths of Jackson Hole. Hannah also received the Pattie Layser Greater Yellowstone Creative Writing & Journalism Fellowship from the Wyoming Arts Council in 2021 and has taught backpacking and climbing courses throughout the West.

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