Newton Medical Center purchases new digital mammography machines
Newton Medical Center took a step into the digital age this summer with the purchase of two digital mammography machines which enable radiologists to manipulate images for clearer readings and reduce wait times for patients.
“The transition to digital mammography has gone very smoothly,” said Lisa McWilliams, manager of the Women’s Diagnostic Center. “The staff, physicians and patients have been very pleased with the new equipment and images.”
The Center has performed over 1,000 screening and diagnostic mammograms so far since installing the digital mammography equipment in June and July. The new machines cost approximately $800,000 total for the two units and computer programs, and the Newton Medical Center Auxiliary has been able to raise nearly $250,000 toward the cost of the machines, said McWilliams.
The difference between digital mammography and traditional film mammography is analogous to taking a picture with a digital camera and a film camera, said Dr. Martha Garrison, one of two fellowshiptrained radiologists dedicated to breast imaging at Newton Medical Center.
Instead of exposing the breast x-ray images onto film, the new machines store the images as electronic files. The images can then be easily manipulated to adjust for brightness, contrast or size, making it easier to read, said Garrison.
“The images are better quality, especially with younger women who have dense breast tissue and pre- and premenopausal women, and it helps a lot with people who have breast implants,” she said. “It’s just overall a better tool.”
A 2005 study sponsored by the National Cancer Institute found that 65 percent of the women receiving mammograms in the study fell into the three categories that benefited from having digital instead of film mammography — women under 50 years old, women with dense breast tissue, and women who had their last menstrual period within 12 months of the mammogram.
Radiologists at Newton Medical are also assisted by a Computer Aided Detection program which serves as a second set of “eyes” by scanning the breast images and pointing out potential trouble spots. This program used to require a separate step to scan the film images into the computer but now is part of the digital mammography equipment.
From a patient’s standpoint, the process of taking a mammogram will still seem the same and still requires breast compression. But digital mammography can reduce patient anxiety, said McWilliams, by lessening the processing time from approximately 30 minutes to 10 minutes and reducing the number of times a patient has to be called back to retake images.
Digital images are also easier to store, less likely to get lost, and can be sent quickly and remotely to radiologists for interpretation, McWilliams pointed out.
The overall goal is to increase ease and effectiveness of mammograms to catch cancer at an early stage, which is key to improving chances of surviving breast cancer.
An estimated 40,460 women and 460 men will die from breast cancer this year, according to the American Cancer Society. The ACS recommends that women over age 40 have mammograms and clinical breast exams annually and women in their 20s and 30s have clinical breast exams periodically every three years. Women with higher risk factors, such as a family history of breast cancer, should consult their doctors about when to start regular exams.
For patients without insurance coverage who qualify, programs such as Breast Test and More can assist with the cost of mammograms. For more information, contact the Newton County Health Department at (770) 786-9086.
Technology upgrade: Radiologist and fellowship-trained breast imager Dr. Amanda Bauer works with new digital mammography equipment in the Women’s Diagnostic Center at Newton Medical Center.