Sponsored Content: Accuracy and experience in verified mammography excellence


There is the shuffling close and closer to the x-ray machine, followed by the positioning, the squeezing between two plastic plates, and the breath-holding while an image is captured. Then there is the brief magazine-flipping wait while the technologist is out of the room. She returns to deliver the news that more images are needed or, in most cases, the patient is good to go.

What is out of sight in this screening ritual is the allimportant activity taking place in a darkened room down the hall during that wait. At St. Mary’s Hospital, Dr. Eric Gerson or one of five other mammography-reading radiologists sit at a bank of computer screens studying the images. Their eyes are honed by years of training and decades of experience. In the varying shades of grey on the images, they pick out the tiny spots, the shadows and the patterns that can be indicative of breast cancer.

What is also not on display for those having the mammograms is the great amount of effort that has gone into ensuring these breast cancer screenings are highly accurate. At the invitation of St. Mary’s, the American College of Radiology and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration figuratively are looking over the shoulders of the radiologists and double checking their work.

St. Mary’s has volunteered for this scrutiny because it allows the hospital to continually compare its breast program to other hospitals and mammography centers. It is the ultimate in quality control: Upwards of 1,000 images are submitted to the certifying organizations each year for examination. The department must be open to drop-in visits by a certification team.

Radiologists must complete continuing education on a regular basis. Reams of data must be tracked. And every year the program is audited.

“We do this voluntarily because it is a way to continually improve our quality,” said Joanne Hunter, Radiology Section Manager at St. Mary’s. “We choose to find out how we stand against other mammography centers.”

That ongoing effort has paid off. St. Mary’s is the only hospital on the Western Slope to be awarded the designation of Breast Imaging Center of Excellence by the American College of Radiology. St. Mary’s has cut its recall rate – the number of patients who must have more x-rays after an initial mammography – from 17 percent to nearly 8 percent.

For patients, that means fewer jitters and less inconvenience.

For a hospital, the excellence designation denotes a mammography program is at the top of its game. At St.

Mary’s that goes well beyond measurements of accuracy.

The mammography and breast program offer every type of imaging and diagnostic procedure available – from basic mammograms to breast tissue exams with Magnetic Resonance Imaging. The program encompasses all types of biopsies. They can be aided by ultrasounds or mammography.

“We do it all soup-to-nuts.

We have a seamless continuum of care,” said Gerson, who has been practicing as a radiologist for 20 years – seven of those at St. Mary’s.

Breast care at St. Mary’s begins with radiologists like Gerson. But if they do find an abnormality a half a dozen other hospital medical specialties come into play. Surgeons do their part on biopsies and cancer removal. Oncologists and radiation oncologists are often involved once a cancer is confirmed.

Breast surgeons and plastic surgeons are brought in to the team if cancer requires extensive surgical removal of a tumor or a breast.

Breast cancer navigators help patients through the maze of screenings and treatments.

If cancers are complex, patients might also receive multidisciplinary help from a team of St. Mary’s physicians and other medical specialists who meet monthly in conference to discuss cases.

After a cancer has been treated, patient care does not end. Oncology nurses lead a survivorship program that helps patients return to lives changed by cancer. The program includes survivor support groups.

St. Mary’s also offers genetic counseling, at any stage in that process, for women – and occasionally men—wanting to know their risk of developing breast cancer or wanting to help make decisions about treatment once cancer has been diagnosed. Treatments for breast cancer are rapidly changing. And even though mammograms may seem like old-hat screening for many women, they are also evolving.

All mammograms at St.

Mary’s are currently being done using digital breast tomosynthesis, otherwise known as 3-D mammography.

In this type of mammogram, an arm sweeps over a breast in an arc and takes about 40 images in “slices.” This allows radiologists to see inside a breast much more clearly. With the older style mammograms, the radiologists had only four images to examine.

Gerson said the improvements in screening, coupled with St.

Mary’s voluntary participation in oversight and comparisons, helps to fulfill a single, ultimate goal—for radiologists and the rest of the mammography team.

“We want to make sure that if you get breast cancer,” Gerson said, “you don’t die from it.”

Dr. Eric Gerson reads digital mammogram images in the radiology department at St. Mary’s Hospital. The mammography and breast program at St Mary’s offers every type of imaging and diagnostic procedures available – from basic mammograms to breast tissue exams with Magnetic Resonance Imaging.



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