Keweenaw Memorial Medical Centre Embrace Digital Mammography Screening

Keweenaw Memorial Medical Center recently upgraded their mammography screening from film to digital. Radiologists are now able to detect breast cancer better than they could before.

With digital mammography imaging, the darkroom is eliminated and the breast images are captured and read on a computer, KMMC Diagnostic Imaging Director Gordon Rintala said.

The radiologist can manipulate the computer image with brightness, contrast and magnification, which allows for earlier and improved detection of breast cancers, he said.

“It’s the biggest breakthrough in mammography,” Rintala said.

The radiologist just found his first cancer that he wouldn’t have found with film.

“That’s what it’s all about,” he said.

Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in women between the ages of 15 and 54, and the second cause of cancer deaths in women 55 to 74, according to a Fuji-film Medical Systems document.

Early detection through mammography is the most promising approach for reducing the toll from breast cancer. Evidence indicated that the availability of screening mammography reduces mortality from breast cancer by 20 to 30 percent, according to the document.

Even though digital mammography is four times more expensive than film, KMMC is keeping their prices the same as they were before.

When breast cancer is found early, the five-year survival rate is 96 percent and women who get regular mammograms reduce their risk of breast cancer death by 63 percent, according to the document.

“The sooner you can find it, the more success they have with treating it,” Rintala said.

Finding cancer in a dense breast is hard to detect.

“It’s very difficult to find cancer in dense breasts,” Rintala said. “It’s like finding a needle in a hay stack.”

The older you get the less dense the breast gets, he said. All young women under 50 have dense breasts and as you reach over 50 they become more fatty.

The exam takes 10 to 15 minutes and the breasts are compressed rapidly. Some women feel a lot of discomfort and some don’t feel any.

“The more compression you get the better the image will be,” he said.

“You want to get the best image you can.”

Neither digital mammography or film can detect all cancers.

“It’s not a perfect art.”

Breast cancer must be found as early as possible to save women’s lives, Rintala said.

“The key is to find it and find it early.”

According to a document provided to the Gazette by Rintala, an international digital mammography screening trial (DMIST) was conducted in 2001 with 49,528 women enrolled. The study took film and digital pictures for comparison and both were read by two different radiologists. The radiologists found that digital mammography found cancers not detected by film mammography. The DMIST was better at screening any woman under age 50, women with dense breasts and pre- and perimenopausal women.

“It’s really exciting,” Rintala said. “That’s why we’re here: to save lives.”

It is still recommended that no woman should delay having screening mammography if they do not have access to digital mammography, Rintala said.

Conventional film mammography still finds 80 to 90 percent of cancers.

“Detecting it is one thing, but actually finding a cure for it would be fantastic.”

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