By Michele Pilon, MS, BSN, RN, NE-BC
A critical key in delivering this care to women is having the latest imaging technology, which enables us to spot suspicious areas in a patient’s mammogram earlier and better than ever before. Since every breast is different, this is an area where customized care is much needed.
Our highly skilled Mammography Team Leader in Imaging Services, Ellen Dickson, gives an excellent overview of the screening technology we’re fortunate to have and exactly what it does. She explains that a game-changing technology is the 3D mammogram unit but clarifies details about the procedure.
“Our 3D mammography unit was installed in 2016 and has been shown to be very beneficial in helping the radiologist see the interior of the breast more clearly. One popular misconception with the 3D mammogram is that the breast no longer needs to be compressed. This is not true, as we still do have to compress the breast tissue for 3D mammogram imaging,” Dickson shares. The analogy Dickson uses to describe the difference between a 2D mammogram and a 3D is that the 2D offers an image that can be compared to looking at a book without opening it, while the 3D images allow the radiologist to flip through the book and have the capability to view chapters and even pages separately. “It offers us visualization of an actual slice, in varying thicknesses, through the breast tissue,” she says.
Another innovative piece of medical technology that Dickson highlights is the automated breast ultrasound screening (ABUS) machine. “ABUS is used as a supplemental screening for women with dense breast tissue, the glandular tissue that is more difficult for a radiologist to interpret than fatty tissue,” Dickson says, “but people must understand that this does not take the place of a mammogram, which is truly the ‘gold standard’ test that every woman should receive, no matter what.”
Dickson declares that each woman has varying grades of glandular-to-fatty tissue ratios, and likens finding some breast cancers on a mammogram of a woman with dense tissue to searching for a snowball in a snowstorm. “The ABUS helps the radiologist identify the cancer that might be hiding in the mammogram images, because with ultrasound, cancer has other characteristics that make it more identifiable in dense breast tissue, which makes it easier to see.”
Dickson describes another type of ultrasound that’s used to scan a very specific area of the breast if cancer is suspected, and it can also be used to guide a physician as they perform a breast biopsy — the diagnostic targeted ultrasound. “The difference between the ABUS and targeted ultrasound is that the former scans the entire breast in three positions, and the latter scans specific areas of concern in breast tissue,” says Dickson.
When a mammogram or targeted ultrasound indicates the need for a biopsy, that procedure can be performed in a timely manner at TRH also.
Especially during the time of COVID-19, Dickson stresses that she and her colleagues take extra care in making sure that examination areas are cleaned between each patient, and that both staff and patients are masked at all times. Something that hasn’t changed, however, is the individual care that staff members show to each patient as they undergo a procedure that can cause unease. “We guide each person through the mammogram exam and continuously check to see that they’re doing okay,” says Dickson. “We know that there’s a lot of anxiety with getting your mammogram, and I feel we’re empathetic to this. We always try to answer any questions patients have to help alleviate their worries.”
It’s also important that the community knows that TRH’s Imaging Services department is fully accredited by the American College of Radiology (ACR). We recently completed the reaccreditation process and our Imaging Supervisor Michael Newbury explains its significance.
“We’re proud to be a Diagnostic Imaging Center of Excellence™,” Newbury declares. “This means that the quality standards of our protocols must be excellent, and our technologists’ skills and qualifications must be equally outstanding. This excellence extends to meticulous documenting processes, how advanced our MRI technology is, our team members’ mastery of the machines, and ultimately, the overall patient experience.”
Newbury adds that TRH is one of only 13 facilities in North Carolina to have received this recognition. “In order to earn it,” he says, “we must consistently provide images of the highest quality and produce them safely — really to surpass accepted standards.”
We’re lucky to have Ellen, Michael and the entire imaging staff at TRH.
TRH now makes reminder calls to women also, if they happen to be overdue for their mammogram, and we’ve gotten very positive feedback around this. Timeliness is key because as we all know, the earlier a tumor can be found, the higher a patient’s chances are for survival.
We continue to urge women to put this critically important healthcare task at the top of their lists. TRH is here and ready to provide you with state-of-the-art screening and care, while meeting and exceeding the highest standards.
In closing, I want to remind you to stay safe. COVID-19 continues to be present, and it is important that we continue to practice social distancing, wearing a mask and washing our hands.
Michele Pilon, MS, BSN, RN, NE-BC, is the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Nursing Officer of Transylvania Regional Hospital.