The Westside Family Health Center in Santa Monica reminds women to get a mammogram every year. Mammograms are offered once a month at the Center.

A staple in Santa Monica for 30 years, the Westside Family Health Center sees over 7,000 patients a year and offers mammograms and other health services, according to Debra Farmer, Westside Family Health Center president and chief executive officer.

“The first Thursday of each month we do 30 to 60 mammograms and the women the clinic sees always walk away with something, such as a pink carnation,” Farmer says.

Farmer says education is an important component of raising awareness, and at the center nurse practitioners perform clinical exams and also show patients how to do a self-exam.

“Women need to be comfortable with their bodies and know when they change, but a person also needs to be proactive and not be afraid of the changes.” Farmer says.

She adds that it’s important to remember that even though the percentage is small, men are also at risk for breast cancer.

Early detection is the impetus behind awareness month and mammograms represent an important tool for early detection.

According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 35,505 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to occur in California this year.

Of those cases, 5,560 are expected to be in Los Angeles County.

Studies show that early detection not only saves lives but also increases treatment options. Finding a way to convince women to have yearly mammograms to reap the benefits of early detection has been a concern for the American Cancer Society.

A recent study by the American Cancer Society reveals that even though women are now getting an initial mammogram, very few follow up and get one every year as recommended.

One way to address this growing problem and encourage women to return each year is the American Cancer Society’s online reminder program that automatically alerts the recipient by e-mail that it’s time to get a mammogram.

Accessible on the American Cancer Society Web site, the user inserts an e-mail address and a delivery date. Each year the mammogram reminder sends an e-mail message reminding the person to schedule a mammogram.

Debora Wright, president of Mobile Mammography Screening, Inc., plays an important role in making sure women get those all-important tests by bringing mammogram service to churches, clinics and corporations.

“Last week we did 35 mammograms at the Westside Family Health Center,” Wright says.

She also says the majority of the mammograms her company performs are free, but certain financial criteria must be met for a free mammogram. She says she accepts all insurance programs.

Her company travels to such corporations as the J. Paul Getty Museum, Boeing and Curves, but some of her most rewarding clients are churches and temples.

“The camaraderie is unbelievable,” she says. “Church members baby-sit and handle any other excuse that comes up for a woman not to get a mammogram.”

Wright adds that by bringing mammograms to the people, many more women are served because excuses, such as not having the time or money, are eliminated.

Besides expanding awareness on the importance of early detection and mammograms, the American Cancer Society also honors women diagnosed with breast cancer by bringing awareness to the fear and challenges they face once diagnosed.

Some of the many services available to women with cancer are Reach to Recovery, a peer support program, and Look GoodÖFeel Better, a free program that provides beauty products and shows women going through chemotherapy and radiation how to use makeup to restore their appearance and enhance their self-image.

The American Cancer Society also has a phone and Web-based support service and a magazine with helpful articles and information on products for women undergoing treatment.

Fears of what they might find is one reason women don’t get a mammogram, do a self-exam, or go back for a yearly mammogram, according to studies.

If diagnosed, women can also feel isolated as they go through treatment.

Educating women on mammograms lets them know that with early detection and new treatments available, breast cancer can be a treatable cancer where patients continue to live and to thrive.

Educating women also lets them know that there are many support services out there, so they don’t have to feel alone.

Encouraging women to take control of their health, Farmer says, “Don’t wait and let someone else find something.”

If a woman finds a lump she stresses, “Call your doctor and don’t wait three months.”

“You’re not alone and that’s the important thing to know.”

Information, American Cancer Society

Debora Wright, Mobile Mammography Screening (310) 628-4191.

Westside Family Health Center (310) 450-2191.

Julie Kirst can be reached at