OMC now offers digital mammograms

CORRECTION TO THE STORY BELOW. Technologists will begin performing digital mammograms at the Olympic Medical Services and Physicians clinic in Sequim this winter. A report ("OMC now offers digital mammograms," A-1, July 1, 2009) mistakenly said that technicians perform the service now.

With the click of a button, Olympic Medical Services and Physicians clinic in

Sequim can send digital mammography images anywhere in the world in seconds.

Technicians no longer are obligated to process films; drivers no longer must transport films from Olympic Medical Center's Sequim campus to Olympic Memorial Hospital in Port Angeles.

The transition from film to digital images in the radiology department is a long time coming but well worth the wait, according to Deby King, Olympic Medical Center director of diagnostic imaging.

"This will allow us to image patients who are currently going out of the area," King said.

"Digital imaging is better at being able to penetrate the dense tissue (commonly seen in younger and high risk patients)."

Switching to digital mammography machines will save time and money. Images are available on the computer immediately, technicians can see more patients instead of processing film, and patients are in and out of the exam room more quickly.

One digital screening machine is ready at the Sequim facility; a second will follow soon. After that, a digital diagnostic and screening unit will replace the film machines at the hospital and at the outpatient facility in Port Angeles.

One digital machine can replace two film units. Each machine costs $300,000-$500,000.

"This is the last step in eliminating films from Olympic Medical Center," King said.

"The digital machines are more efficient and the technician never even has to leave the room."

Doctors and technicians will receive additional training on the new machines that produce much more detailed results than film machines, according to King.

With the advanced equipment, patients can expect to schedule appointments within two or three days as opposed to two or three weeks.

"We encourage patients to come in for their annual mammogram," King said.

"It's all about early detection - that's key."

Focus groups and seminars to increase breast cancer awareness are in the works, as well as subsidized screenings for people who can't afford the tests.

The American Cancer Society advises women 40 and older to get a mammogram every year. Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam by a health professional every three years.

Breast self-examination is encouraged for women starting in their early 20s.

The earlier breast cancer is detected, the better are the chances for successful treatment.

The risk of developing breast cancer increases with age. In fact, half of all breast cancers are diagnosed in women older than 61.

But that doesn't mean younger women - and men - aren't at risk.

In 2008, in the United States more than 182,400 new cases of breast cancer were diagnosed in women and 1,990 in men. A total of 40,930 died from the disease.

"It's so easy to put on your blinders and ignore potential problems, but it's not worth risking your life," King said.

Ashley Miller can be reached at ashleyo@sequim

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