WASHINGTON, DC (WUSA) -- Early detection is key to a woman surviving breast cancer. But if she is one of the 27-million women in the US with a physical disability it can be more difficult. A grant from the Susan G. Komen Foundation is helping those women overcome barriers to screening.
Sheri Denkensohn of Arlington, Virginia was in a diving accident when she was just 16-years-old that left her a quadriplegic. Sheri is in a wheelchair but still keeps a busy schedule as a lawyer and special assistant to the Inspector General at HHS.
While recovering from treatments related to her disability, she felt a lump. She had a mammogram, then a biopsy.
"Four days later on 4th of July weekend I found it was a cancerous lump," she says.
Research finds women with disabilities tend to get screened less often than women without limitations.
Sometimes healthcare workers don't encourage screening for disabled women. They and the patient focus on the disability rather than health conditions like breast and cervical cancers that women still face as women.
Janet Kreitman with the American Association on Health and Disabilities
says, "In some cases, women with disabilities feel like lightening can't strike twice. I've been given this disability no way I can get breast cancer too.
But several factors outside the disabled woman's control often create barriers to screenings.
"I have a trach so it was trying not to hit the trach on the machine so it takes a while and it's not comfortable, says Sheri.
Two Komen funded grants, have helped The American Association on Health and Disability, survey 55-area medical facilities and hospitals, including Sibley Memorial, to measure accessibility starting with doorways. Janet also looked at exam tables and mammography machines to see if they go low enough for a disabled patient.
Janet says, "If it goes below 24 inches its easier for her to have a mammogram while seated in her wheelchair."
Kreitman even measured handicapped parking spaces. She says, "Spaces should be 8-feet or 96-inches next to an adjacent space of 5-feet or 60-inches.
The good news, the survey found most area facilities were accessible. Currently, phase three of the Komen grant is focused on raising awareness among women in DC wards 7 and 8, Prince George's County and some counties in Virginia.
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