Monday Medical: Think pink for women’s health |

Monday Medical: Think pink for women’s health

Christine McKelvie

— It's time to think pink. All across the country, bright pink ribbons are reminding us that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Here in Steamboat Springs, the Yampa Valley Breast Cancer Awareness Project is gearing up for its 10th annual Bust of Steamboat on Oct. 21. Yampa Valley Medical Center is beginning to schedule digital mammography screening exams on Saturday mornings to accommodate busy women.

October's first community education event is a free luncheon and program Tuesday at YVMC. The presentation features Malaika C. Thompson, M.D., and Julie Isaacs, RT.

Thompson is the hospital's mammography lead interpreting radiologist, and Isaacs is a mammographer, assistant director of diagnostic imaging and women's imaging coordinator. They will discuss what breast cancer looks and feels like, explain the technology of digital mammography and emphasize the importance of annual checkups and mammograms beginning by age 40.

"Breast tissue changes continuously during a woman's life," Isaacs said. "The American College of Radiology and YVMC recommend annual mammograms to see if anything is developing that requires further review."

YVMC Cancer Services Director Jan Fritz agrees.

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"A mammogram goes together with regular breast self-exams and an annual clinical exam by a physician or other health care professional," Fritz said. "The goal is to detect changes. A clinician can observe outward changes and feel palpable abnormalities. A mammogram gives us a look inside at things you could never feel."

Not all breast cancer appears as a lump, Fritz said. In recent years, several Yampa Valley women were in their 50s when they were diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer, a relatively rare but serious disease.

"This cancer appears on the chest and causes dimpling and reddening of the skin," she said. "It may look like a rash, sunburn, or the skin of an orange. It may make one breast noticeably different than the other. Any woman observing these types of changes should see a health care professional immediately."

Isaacs said there are two types of mammograms. The routine screening exam is used when a patient has no concerns or questions. YVMC is a self-requesting facility, allowing a woman to schedule her own mammogram when she supplies a health care provider's name.

Screening mammograms are performed by appointment, then reviewed by a radiologist during uninterrupted time devoted solely to mammography images, Isaacs said.

The other type of mammogram is diagnostic, ordered by a physician or provider because of a concern or suspected abnormality. A radiologist reviews and actively supervises each diagnostic mammography session and may order additional imaging.

"The ideal is to have an annual exam by a provider first, so the appropriate mammogram can be performed," Isaacs said.

As lead interpreting radiologist for mammography, Thompson oversees YVMC's annually accredited program. She is board-certified by the American Board of Radiology and completed a one-year fellowship at the University of Colorado Hospital, studying body imaging and dedicated breast imaging.

"We are very fortunate to have Malaika here as well as our other full-time radiologists who share and understand mammography responsibilities," Isaacs said.

"Our digital equipment is also top-notch, and many of our patients comment on it because they helped contribute to our fundraising to bring this fabulous technology here."

The primary goal of Bust of Steamboat is to ensure that local women are not prevented from receiving mammograms and checkups because of a lack of resources.

"Funds are available to help pay for uninsured and underinsured women to have well women's exams and mammograms," Fritz said. "Interested women should call the Yampa Valley Breast Cancer Awareness Project at 970-846-4554 to see if they qualify."

Christine McKelvie is the public relations director of Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at

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