New diagnostic equipment at CKHA helps in fight against breast cancer

Building upon earlier investments in mammography, Chatham-Kent Health Alliance’s Diagnostic Imaging Department today unveiled its newest ally in the fight against breast cancer. Two newly installed Digital Mammography machines developed by Siemens, were showcased at an afternoon news conference and open house at the Alliance’s Chatham campus.

Unlike traditional mammography equipment which produces images on film, digital mammography creates electronic images which require no film. The images are stored directly on the computer where Radiologists can adjust the brightness of the image, change the contrast and zoom in for close-ups.

Digital Mammography is especially useful for women with very dense breast tissue. Dense breasts tend to appear white in colour and can be more difficult to analyze on traditional x-ray films, whereas digital mammography images can be manipulated to maximize the contrast and the brightness so problems can be detected more readily.

Digital equipment can also help radiologists to detect lesions that are closer to the skin’s surface. While traditional mammography methods work well taking images through the centre of the breast, the outer areas generally appear quite dark and the picture is not uniform. With the digital system, the technology can equalize the tissues just underneath the skin, enhancing the opportunity to detect problems.

“Digital mammography is now considered best-practice technology in state-of-the-art diagnostics and care,” said Dr. Main Yee, chief of Diagnostic Imaging. “We are pleased and proud that CKHA’s Diagnostic Imaging Department can now offer digital mammography to area citizens.”

“Clinical studies show that by using digital mammography equipment, Radiologists have detected breast cancers with a higher degree of confidence than was previously possible with conventional film-based mammography,” he added. “Mammography is the last of the diagnostic modalities at CKHA to become digitalÉWe are now completely filmless.”

Benefits of digital mammography include:

  • More definitive, timely diagnosis
  • Automatic flagging of areas of potential concern
  • Less time of discomfort by the patient having a mammogram (average 10 minutes)
  • Reduced radiation for patients (by approximately 50%)
  • More efficient processes and therefore more patients can be accommodated
  • Improved environmental impact (no film processing or chemicals)
  • Digital file storage and electronic transmission to out-of-town cancer care specialists

Elaine Gammage, Manager of Digital Imaging noted, “Breast cancer remains the most common type of cancer for women in Ontario. Mammograms can detect small breast cancers 2-3 years before they can be felt. Chatham-Kent Health Alliance, designated by the Ontario Breast Screening Program, boasts specially-trained staff, certified equipment and nationally-accredited services and standards to assure local women of excellence in breast care.”

She noted that in the past year, the Alliance has conducted over 3,100 mammograms – over 4,400 patient visits through the Ontario Breast Screening Program and cared for more than 400 patients with breast anomalies in the Breast Assessment Program. She anticipates an increase in patient volumes of 30% as a result of moving to digital mammography, and an improved wait time of 1 to 2 weeks, with urgent cases done next day.

Alliance CEO, Ken Tremblay said, “By offering the best in digital technologies, our doctors, nurses, and patients can make better informed decisions about health or disease status. We’re proud to be recognized as leaders in adopting best practices and award-winning information technologies. Ultimately, these investments support better care.”

CKHA’s chief information officer, Sharon Pfaff states, “Now that we have added digital mammography, we will be able to provide 100% of the CKHA diagnostic images electronically to physicians in their home, their offices or any where in the hospital”. The implementation of PACS (Picture Archiving Communication Systems) in 2004 and the physician portal gives CKHA the ability to provide this level of physician access to digital images.

Digital Mammography at CKHA was sponsored in part by proceeds to the Foundation of CKHA from A Fashionable Affair. Organized by Thomas Smith and James Lizotte of Get it On and Anita Labadie of The Loft, in the past two years the event raised over $27,000 towards CKHA’s efforts in breast health. The remainder of the $1.2 million equipment purchase price was funded through CKHA’s 2006/07 capital budget.