Local women's donation helps with early detection

New tool helps find breast cancer in beginning stages

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— One woman's generosity has given doctors in the Yampa Valley a new tool to detect breast cancer early.

Yampa Valley Medical Center received a call last December from a resident who wanted to know how she could financially support the early detection of breast cancer among local women.

When hospital staff told her about computer technology they wanted to acquire but didn't have the financial means to purchase, the woman, who wants to remain anonymous, offered to help.

Her $185,000 donation allowed the hospital to purchase a computer that alerts doctors to potential cancerous spots they might have missed on mammograms.

Local radiologists have used the computer-aided detection, or CAD, for about a month.

About 500 hospitals in the country now use the technology to supplement annual screenings.

It's an expensive piece of equipment the radiology department would not have received for another year or two without the donor's generous gift, hospital spokesperson Christine McKelvie said.

Radiologists saw a need for R2 Technology's ImageChecker, but the medical center did not budget for the equipment and had looked at raising outside funds to purchase it.

The ImageChecker was not the first piece of breast-cancer equipment the hospital has secured through donations. Private donations also allowed the hospital to acquire another piece of early-detection technology last March.

The 2001 Ski Town USA Golf Classic raised the $165,000 needed to bring the stereotactic breast biopsy procedure to Yampa Valley Medical Center.

Stereotactic breast biopsies are a less invasive way of sampling potential cancerous areas on the breast. Women are spared the scarring and discomfort that often follows surgery because doctors do not surgically remove sample breast tissue.

Computer-aided detection is a nice addition to the stereotactic breast biopsy procedure, said Julie Isaacs, a radiologic technologist at Yampa Valley Medical Center.

"It's such a nice tool to have," she said.

The radiology department gives about 160 mammograms every month. Mammograms show possible abnormalities on the breast that could merit a closer look.

Radiologists first examine mammogram films and then refer to computer-aided detection for a second opinion of sorts.

The computer supplements radiologists' initial examination. It does not replace their initial examination.

"This is just an aid," Isaacs said. "It's not used alone."

Radiologists always check mammogram films before they refer to a digital version of the image with ImageChecker, radiologist Geoff Gullow said.

The ImageChecker draws attention to potential troublesome spots he might have overlooked on the film, he said. The computer acts as a second pair of eyes but it does not replace a doctor's eyes, he added.

About 70 to 80 percent of abnormalities that show up on mammograms are benign, and most of the marks identified by the computer have already been checked and dismissed as normal by radiologists.

But second looks never hurts, and thanks to one woman's thoughtfulness, it's possible.

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