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Published: Monday, 5/5/2008

Project targets Amish breast cancer


COLUMBUS - A statewide project to encourage Amish and Mennonite women to undergo regular breast exams is working to overcome cultural and transportation issues to reduce the number of deaths from breast cancer in the populations.

Researcher Melissa Thomas founded Project Hoffnung after discovering that health screenings for Amish and Mennonite women in rural Ohio weren't widely accessible, and that too many didn't take advantage of mobile screening units.

Contrary to widely held beliefs, Ms. Thomas also found that Amish women were interested in learning more about breast cancer.

"We were told from health care professionals, 'They don't believe in technology. They don't believe in medical care. Why waste your time?'•" Ms. Thomas said.

But the project, whose name comes from the German word for hope, has provided services, including mammograms, to more than 1,500 women in the last decade and has worked to educate Amish and Mennonite women on the importance of breast self-exams, she said.

Amish will ride in cars, but they won't personally drive anything that requires an engine, and it can be expensive to pay for a driver.

Many healthcare agencies have toll-free numbers, but in some communities, the nearest phone is a few miles down the road, said Ms. Thomas, who manages OhioHealth's federal and foundation-funded research programs.

She has worked to link local agencies with Amish women, and Project Hoffnung has received more than $500,000 in grants that have gone toward mammograms, transportation, and follow-up care.

Project Hoffnung soon will expand its Amish and Mennonite Breast Health Project to Geauga and Wayne counties because of a grant from the northeast Ohio affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

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