Health scans a must for women

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— Most women who have reached or exceeded the age of 40 are familiar with the medically recommended ritual of having a mammogram. By the age of 50, some have also had a bone density scan.

Mammography and bone densitometry are two of the three most common diagnostic imaging exams for women. The third one is ultrasound, or sonography. At Yampa Valley Medical Center (YVMC), these exams sometimes work together to provide a clearer picture of a woman's health.

Mammography is the primary imaging method for early detection of breast cancer. YVMC has taken several steps to increase the quality and comfort of this exam.

Last month, the hospital became a certified Softer Mammogram Provider. The diagnostic imaging department provides a new product that dramatically eases the discomfort many women feel when they get a mammogram.

"The compression needed for an accurate mammogram is widely known to be a reason that some women don't get regular screenings," said Mary Jo Wiedel, director of diagnostic imaging at YVMC. "In addition, the cold surfaces and hard edges of the mammography device make the experience uncomfortable for some patients.

"We have addressed these issues by adding a single-use breast cushion that attaches to the compression plates," she said. "The feedback from patients and staff has been excellent. Women are more relaxed during the exam, and this makes it easier for our mammography technologists to get the best possible image."

Those recommended annual exams are called screening mammograms. They are performed at YVMC by certified mammographers and read by board-certified radiologists within 24 hours.

"We are meeting the increased demand for mammography by offering appointments on Monday and Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings," Wiedel noted.

The hospital's computer-aided detection (CAD) system helps radiologists as they study mammograms for abnormal areas of density, mass, or calcification that may indicate the presence of cancer. The CAD system highlights these areas on the images, alerting the radiologist to the need for further analysis.

Some women will receive diagnostic mammography. This exam is tailored to evaluate an area of specific concern such as a breast lump or finding on a routine mammogram for which further evaluation is recommended.

"Our radiologists read a diagnostic mammogram immediately, while the patient is still in our department," Wiedel said. "Sometimes additional images or a follow-up ultrasound exam are recommended, and we can typically perform this right away." An ultrasound examination or sonogram can help the radiologist determine whether the abnormality is a tumor or a cyst. When indicated, ultrasound can also be used to guide needle biopsies of suspicious findings.

Ultrasound has many other medical uses. A pelvic ultrasound exam is performed on a woman to evaluate the bladder, ovaries, uterus, cervix and fallopian tubes. This exam is also used to monitor the health and development of an embryo or fetus during pregnancy. Ultrasound is also useful for evaluating symptoms experienced by women such as pelvic pain or abnormal bleeding and help identify ovarian cysts, uterine fibroids, and ovarian or uterine cancers.

Bone density scanning, or bone densitometry, is an enhanced form of x-ray technology that is used to measure bone loss by assessing bone mineral density. This exam is performed on the lower spine and hips to diagnose osteoporosis. It can also track the effects of treatment for osteoporosis.

"We have made it easy for women to schedule a screening mammogram and bone density scan during the same visit," Wiedel said. "At YVMC, we continue to look for ways to better serve our customers while we improve our technology and gain efficiencies."

Christine McKelvie is the public relations director of Yampa Valley Medical Center.

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