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Breast cancer screenings made easier at Portage Health

October 26, 2010
By STACEY KUKKONEN Houghton Daily Mining Gazette

HANCOCK - As technology advances, breast cancer screening has become easier for those conducting mammograms on a routine basis.

John Jokela, director of radiology at Portage Health, said the hospital conducts digital diagnostic and screening mammograms.

"We also do breast ultrasound and MRI of the breast," Jokela said. "We do breast surgery here, too."

Screening refers to tests and exams used to find a disease, like cancer, in people who do not have any symptoms, he said, and the goal is to find cancers before they start to cause symptoms.

For women in the 40s and older, it's vital to have a mammogram annually. Some women need to have a biopsy.

"Almost all of the procedures are outpatient procedures," he said.

Early detection tests for breast cancer may save thousands of lives each year, Jokela said.

"It's still one of the top killers in women," he said.

These days, the process of screening for breast cancer is becoming easier with the help of modern technology.

A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast which allows health care professionals looks for calcifications in the breast and a mass.

During a mammogram, the patient is able to see the X-ray images right away.

Lynn LaTendresse, a mammographer at Portage Health, said the mammogram pictures can show lymph nodes in the axilla.

"Sometimes we can't get as deep as what some people might feel because the shoulder gets in the way," she said. "But that's where ultrasound comes in. It can produce different angles."

The digital mammogram machine at Portage is only a little more than a year old and it compresses the breast, but uses a new technology called flex panels.

"With the older machine, the panel came down in one direction," she said. "With this one, when the panel feels like it has enough against the chest wall, it flexes itself forward and compresses the breast evenly."

This allows the health care professional to get a better look during the mammogram, she said.

"It produces an even compression around the whole breast," she said. "Some women said with this new digital machine, they don't feel like it's pulling as much."

LaTendresse said the more compression a woman can tolerate during a mammogram, the better the picture will be as the dense tissue spreads out.

Also, with the ability to look at the pictures on a computer, health care professionals aren't using a dark room and calling the patient back to redo a screening.

"It usually takes between three to five seconds (to get an image) and then I can tell right away if I want to redo it or get more of the lateral tissue," LaTendresse said.



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