As the home of Virginia Tech, Montgomery County has become synonymous with forward-thinking approaches to education, technology, and public service. But recent studies show that when it comes to women’s health, the region is falling behind.

According to a report compiled by Virginia Tech researchers and Susan G. Komen Virginia Blue Ridge, nearly half the new breast cancer cases in Montgomery County aren’t diagnosed until they reach late-stage development. That means local early detection rates have fallen 44 percent below the national average.

“When it comes to breast cancer, we can’t settle for below average,” said Carla Finkielstein, an associate professor in Virginia Tech’s College of Science, fellow at the Biocomplexity Institute of Virginia Tech and Fralin Life Science Institute, and Komen Virginia Blue Ridge board member. “When we see such a serious disparity in medical care right here in our own back yard, it’s our responsibility to take action.”

Finkielstein’s solution is to bring breast cancer screening services directly into the poorest, most geographically isolated communities in the Virginia Commonwealth. October — which is also Breast Cancer Awareness Month — will mark the beginning of a 45-day flash-fundraising campaign to send a mobile mammography unit to five high-need counties.

In surveying the populations surrounding Virginia Tech, Finkielstein and her Komen collaborators found nearly half of area women live in a medically underserved community, meaning access to reliable transportation will often be a determining factor in whether they can obtain an annual breast cancer screening.

“By sending a mobile mammogram unit directly into these communities, we can overcome one of the biggest obstacles these women face in maintaining their long-term health,” said Elizabeth Hand, mission coordinator for Komen Virginia Blue Ridge. “We’re proud to be partnering with the Virginia Tech community because they so clearly believe in this cause.”

Yearly mammograms are a critical first line of defense against breast cancer. Recent data from Cancer Research UK show that early diagnosis can triple cancer survival rates. For breast cancer in particular, patients who receive an early-stage diagnosis have a five-year survival rate of 99 percent.

“We want to reduce breast cancer deaths 50 percent by 2026,” said Finkielstein. “We can’t meet that goal without ensuring everyone has access to basic screening services.”

Volunteers for this fundraising effort include students and faculty from the Biocomplexity Institute of Virginia Tech, Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Research Institute, Fralin Life Science Institute, Virginia Tech College of Science, and the Center for Gerontology.

The Mobile Mammogram crowdfunding campaign will run through Nov. 17. Supporters can contribute a gift of any amount and help to promote the program on Facebook and Twitter by visiting the project’s homepage

Written by Dan Rosplock

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