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Staying abreast of technology

Veronica Whitney
Cathy McCloskey, an imaging coordinator, targets a lesion on the new Fischer stereotactic equipment, while Sarah Moody, Senior Vice President of Operations, looks on at the Sonnenalp Breast Diagnostic Imaging Center in Edwards.
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part of what a new breast care machine has in stock at the recently open Sonnenalp Breast Diagnostic Imaging Center in Edwards.

The Vail Valley is now one of two places in the state – the other is in Denver – that has a new breast cancer detector, the Fischer SenoScan Full Field Digital Mammography System, capable of digitally transmitting mammogram screenings.

“Digital imaging is the way of the future,” says Dr. Jan Ugale, a breast radiology specialist at the center. “This system is as accurate, if not more, than the traditional analog system. With it, we’ll be able to catch in the future more subtle forms of cancer.”



The center, part of the Vail Valley Medical Center, a multi-disciplinary breast-imaging program housed at the Shaw Pavilion in Edwards, opened Friday.

Sarah Moody, senior vice president of operations at Vail Valley Medical Center, says the new system is more precise and can give faster results, shortening the waiting period for a mammogram.



With the new machine, examinations are actually four minutes faster per patient than with traditional film mammograms, Moody said.

“With the new machine, we’ll be able to do 25 to 40 percent more exams,” Moody said. “We’re serving more than people in the Vail Valley. This will have an impact on all surrounding communities.”

More than 3,000 women a year go through Vail Valley Medical Center to get a mammogram.



“Mammography screening should begin at age 40 and be repeated regularly,” Ugale said.

More than 2,000 women in Colorado will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, said Melanie Simons-Dahlstrom, with the Colorado Women’s Cancer Control Initiative at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

“Three women out of 1,000 who get new mammograms will develop breast cancer,” Ugale says.

The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2002 more than 200,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in American women, but many still avoid using the mammogram as a tool for early screenings.

However, breast cancer is very treatable and 95 percent curable when detected in its earliest stage, Simons-Dahlstrom said. A mammogram, which is a safe X-ray of the breasts, can detect a breast cancer up to two years before a woman or her health care provider can find it.

The new digital image system enables rapid access to second opinions via high-speed Internet, Moody says.

“Because we can send the images so fast now, a specialist instead of a typical radiologist can read the results anywhere in the country or in the world,” says Doug Runckel, imaging director with Vail Valley Medical Center.

Another positive aspect of the equipment is technicians can stay in the room with the patient, since they don’t need to leave to develop or output film, helping the patient feel more secure, Moody adds.

“The system also allows to zoom in up to four times an image, making it easy to read results,” Ugale says. “It will help prevent some call-backs because we can manipulate the image better.”

The machine also cuts patient radiation exposure to a half, says Janine Broda with Fisher Imaging, manufacturer of the new machine.

The breast center and the new digital machine, which cost about $500,000, was partially financed by the Sonnenalp of Vail Foundation. Net proceeds from the past three Scramble Against Cancer golf tournaments, and proceeds from the 2002 and 2003 tournaments have been committed toward funding its purchase.

“It is the goal of the foundation to enhance the quality of life for residents in the greater Eagle Valley community,” says Rosana Faessler of the Sonnenalp of Vail Foundation.

Another machine at the center, called the Mammotest Stereotactic Biopsy System, will allow biopsies to be performed using a digital X-ray-guided needle instead of a knife, Moody says. This new system takes less than half the time of traditional surgical biopsies, is equally effective and requires the use of topical anesthetic only.

While better mammogram technology can mean earlier detection of suspicious lesions, differentiation between malignant or benign tissue is often difficult through the use of mammography alone and the definitive test can only be achieved through tissue biopsy.

“Having this extraordinary service in Edwards alleviates women having to travel to Denver for care,” says Cliff Eldredge, chief executive officer of Vail Valley Medical Center.

For more information on the Sonnenalp Breast Diagnostic Imaging Center, call 970-569-7690.

Free mammograms

In honor of October’s National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the Colorado Women’s Cancer Control Initiative at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is offering free mammograms and breast exams at clinics throughout the state.

The free exams are available to women who don’t have health insurance, are 50 years of age and older and who qualify based on their family’s size and income level. Women 40 to 49 years old who have a personal or family history of breast cancer or who have symptoms of breast cancer may also be eligible for the free exams.

The Colorado Women’s Cancer Control Initiative also provides free Pap tests and pelvic exams for women 40 and older.

For questions about qualifications for free exams, call the toll-free hotline at 1-866-692-2600 or the individual.

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.


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