Health cen­tre puts fo­cus on breast care

Ottawa Citizen - - NEWS - JOANNE LAU­CIUS jlau­cius@post­

Gina Mer­tikas was 34 years old and a mother of three, in­clud­ing a oneyear-old, when she felt a hard­ness in her breast that just never went away.

“I thought it was a breast­feed­ing is­sue,” she said.

Mer­tikas is not in the breast cancer de­mo­graphic. She is young and has no fam­ily his­tory of breast cancer, but the idea was al­ways in the back of her mind. She was di­ag­nosed in March 2017, set­ting off a round of pro­ce­dures and treat­ments at dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions.

“I was go­ing to the Civic, then the Gen­eral for chemo­ther­apy, then back to the Civic,” she said.

“Ev­ery­thing was old. The rooms were very small. You had to ma­noeu­vre your way around. It’s so much bet­ter here.”

“Here” is the new Rose Ages Breast Health Cen­tre at the Gen­eral cam­pus of The Ot­tawa Hos­pi­tal. The cen­tre was built with $14 mil­lion raised in the com­mu­nity and de­signed to be a “one-stop shop” for women — and the oc­ca­sional man — with breast cancer and other breast con­cerns, to omit the stress of hav­ing to go from place to place.

The new cen­tre is about three times the size of the old space, which opened in 1997. In the past two decades, the num­ber of pa­tients has in­creased by 40 per cent, the re­sult of a grow­ing and ag­ing pop­u­la­tion. Mean­while, the num­ber of imag­ing and other pro­ce­dures, in­clud­ing biop­sies, has also in­creased by 175 per cent.

The cen­tre has eight sur­geons, eight imag­ing spe­cial­ists and two fam­ily physi­cians who spe­cial­ize in benign breast dis­ease, such as cysts. There are three mam­mog­ra­phy units equipped with to­mosyn­the­sis 3D imag­ing, of­ten called “3D mam­mog­ra­phy,” which of­fers a se­ries of cross-sec­tions of the breast tis­sue. 3D images are more ac­cu­rate and re­sult in fewer un­nec­es­sary tests and biop­sies.

The cen­tre also has three sep­a­rate wait­ing rooms, in­clud­ing one for pa­tients al­ready in med­i­cal gowns.

“Peo­ple love it. It’s a safe en­vi­ron­ment,” said Dr. Jean Seely, head of breast imag­ing in the depart­ment of med­i­cal imag­ing at the hos­pi­tal. “One of the pa­tients burst into tears. She was so moved by the fact that there’s a gowned wait­ing room.”

There are also con­sul­ta­tion rooms large enough to fit en­tire fam­i­lies. “Of­ten, pa­tients have four or five fam­ily mem­bers with them,” said breast sur­gi­cal on­col­o­gist Dr. Erin Cordeiro.

“This is go­ing to be very good for fam­i­lies,” said Mer­tikas.

The spa­ces make it pos­si­ble to see more pa­tients and trim wait times. For physi­cians and other prac­ti­tion­ers on this multi-dis­ci­plinary team, sim­ply be­ing close to other ex­perts can help to stream­line the process. An es­ti­mated 15,000 pa­tients will re­ceive di­ag­nos­tic mam­mo­grams and ul­tra­sounds at the cen­tre next year, and physi­cians will see 1,000 new cases of breast cancer.

The cen­tre is also on the lead­ing edge. The Ot­tawa Hos­pi­tal was the third hos­pi­tal in Canada to have a ra­dioac­tive seed pro­gram, and it re­mains a leader in the area.

For the past 20 years, when a woman had a breast cancer tu­mour that was too small to feel or be seen in surgery, a wire called a “har­poon” would be in­stalled into her breast to guide the sur­geon to the spot. The wires were un­com­fort­able, and some­times a wire would be ac­ci­den­tally moved, cre­at­ing an ele­ment of guess­work for the sur­geon.

The pin­head-sized seeds, how­ever, con­tain a ra­dioac­tive iso­tope, which is used as a “marker” to pin­point the tu­mour for the sur­geon. The seed is re­moved at the same time as the tu­mour. The seed can be im­planted a week or more be­fore surgery us­ing a large-gauge nee­dle un­der gen­eral anes­thetic. The pa­tient can ar­rive the day of the surgery and be ready. They are pain­less and safe — the ra­di­a­tion level is too low to cause any harm — and they have re­duced stress and wait times.

One in eight Cana­dian women will de­velop breast cancer in her life­time, ac­cord­ing to the Cana­dian Cancer So­ci­ety, and one in 31 will die of it. About 80 per cent of breast can­cers are di­ag­nosed with no fam­ily his­tory.

Peo­ple love it. It’s a safe en­vi­ron­ment. One of the pa­tients burst into tears. She was so moved by the fact that there’s a gowned wait­ing room.


From left, Ot­tawa Hos­pi­tal’s Dr. Jean Seely, head of breast imag­ing, Dr. Erin Cordeiro, breast sur­gi­cal on­col­o­gist, and pa­tient Gina Mer­tikas. The new Breast Health Cen­tre at the hos­pi­tal’s Gen­eral cam­pus will pro­vide ex­per­tise in imag­ing, di­ag­no­sis, risk assess­ment, sur­gi­cal plan­ning and psy­choso­cial sup­port for pa­tients.

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