Skip to main content

Mobile Women's Health Unit

  • Need: Because breast cancer is a leading cause of cancer death for American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) women, access to screening mammograms for those women living in remote areas is needed.
  • Intervention: The Great Plains Area Indian Health Service Mobile Women's Health Unit provided mammograms to women on multiple reservations across four states.
  • Results: Approximately 1,000 women were screened annually for breast cancer by the mobile unit.


The Aberdeen Mobile Health UnitWhile mortality rates have been falling for Caucasian and African American women, they have been rising for American Indian women living on Midwestern reservations. In addition, American Indian women are more likely than their Caucasian counterparts to be diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer. To counteract this rising mortality rate and identify breast cancer earlier, the Indian Health Service (IHS) and Great Plains Area Indian Health Service developed a mobile cancer screening unit, called the Mobile Women's Health Unit, to reach remote areas on American Indian reservations for screening women 40 years of age and over for breast cancer. The mobile unit began operating in March 2006, visiting multiple reservations in Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota. In 2018, due to the age of the mobile unit and funding constraints, the service terminated.

During the unit's operation, area healthcare facilities were responsible for advertising the date and time of the mobile unit's visit, as well as scheduling the appointments. Mammogram results were sent to the woman's local IHS healthcare facility, and if abnormal, further care and referrals for additional services were made.

A close partnership between the mobile health unit and area healthcare facilities was vital to the success of the program. The Mobile Women's Health Unit also worked to ensure that women with abnormal results received a continuum of care in order to treat the cancer while it was still in the early stages.

The mobile health unit used digital mammography technology, allowing the study to be completed in the mobile unit, transmitted to radiologists off site for interpretation, and the findings reported back, all within a short period of time. Women with abnormal mammograms were referred quickly for prompt breast healthcare.

The mobile health unit was also unique because if the rapid off-site study interpretation indicated follow up images were required, the patient could have those completed while the unit was still in the area. Often the quick turn-around allowed diagnosis of breast cancer in early stages.

Services offered

  • Free mammogram screenings
  • Referrals to local health units, tribal health facilities, or regional healthcare facilities were available for participants with abnormal screening results


The Great Plains Area Indian Health Service Mobile Women's Health Unit's service area included 15 different locations on reservations, serving Native American women in the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Iowa. Over 1,000 women were screened annually thanks to the Mobile Women's Health Unit.


Need for rapid digital radiological interpretation capability.

Contact Information

Suzanne England, MCH/Women's Health Consultant
Great Plains Area Office-Indian Health Service

American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians
Health screening
Mobile and episodic healthcare delivery

States served
Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota

Date added
November 13, 2008

Date updated or reviewed
July 26, 2019

Please contact the models and innovations contact directly for the most complete and current information about this program. Summaries of models and innovations are provided by RHIhub for your convenience. The programs described are not endorsed by RHIhub or by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy. Each rural community should consider whether a particular project or approach is a good match for their community’s needs and capacity. While it is sometimes possible to adapt program components to match your resources, keep in mind that changes to the program design may impact results.