DAVENPORT, Wash. – More patients at Lincoln Hospital and clinics will have access to preventive breast cancer screening in the new year thanks to the hospital’s recently installed 3D mammography machine.
So far, women who have used the new machine say it differs very little from the old one.
“It’s not any more painful,” said Mary Gamble, a lifelong Davenport resident who got a mammogram with the new machine last week.
Mammograms are low-dose X-rays taken from different angles while the breast is compressed. They are the primary way for health care providers to screen for breast cancer, and depending on the medical association, women are recommended to start getting mammograms at age 50, although some organizations suggest starting screenings earlier.
The process can be uncomfortable, and for some women with denser breast tissue, a mammogram may be difficult for a radiologist to read. Enter 3D mammography. While the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has said current evidence is “insufficient to assess the balance of benefits and harms” of tomosynthesis or 3D mammography, studies have shown its ability to lower the number of further screenings a woman may need as well as detect slightly more cancerous cells than a 2D mammogram.
In rural medicine, that’s important, says Tim O’Connell, chief financial officer at Lincoln Hospital, noting that previously some patients would have to go to Spokane to get 3D or further screenings.
“We have a better chance of getting more accurate, timely information to patients without them having to travel,” O’Connell said.
The Siemens machine, which lights up when in operation, is FDA-approved, and it can perform both classic and 3D mammograms. Beyond bringing newer technology to rural Washington, the hospital’s old mammography machine had reached the end of its life. In November, the hospital’s board of commissioners approved the $260,000 purchase, which ended up being about $288,000 with software and hardware necessary to operate it.
For Lincoln County residents, mammography services at the hospital can mean catching cancer early. Jackie McLaughlin has gone in each year for her mammogram since she turned 50. This month she was one of the first patients to use the new machine. For McLaughlin, screening is important and a part of her health care routine, especially since her sister was diagnosed with breast cancer at Lincoln Hospital.
“She initially had (a mammogram) at Davenport, and they sent her for more scans in Spokane after that, so they did catch it out here,” McLaughlin said.
Today, her sister is cancer-free. Like Gamble, McLaughlin said she noticed little difference in pain or comfort with the hospital’s new machine. Patients do have to stand still for five minutes as well as turn their heads to the right and left and occasionally at an angle with the new machine.
At Lincoln Hospital, primary care providers recommend patients get screened annually beginning at age 40, unless there is a family history of breast cancer or other potential risk factors, said Stacia Soliday, an advanced registered nurse practitioner at the Lincoln Hospital clinics. Soliday said having mammography at the hospital enables her older patients to stay local to receive care – and avoids their using the trip to Spokane as an excuse for putting off preventive screenings.
“If there’s any trouble, it’s getting people to go do it,” Soliday said. “Once they’ve gone, it’s been smooth.”
Lincoln Hospital does not do diagnostic screenings, and they forward all their scans to Inland Imaging in Spokane. Radiologists will read the scans, write a report and chart notes, and send a letter back to the Lincoln Hospital imaging department, O’Connell said, as well as a letter to the patient. If radiologists find something in a scan, they notify the primary care provider too, who can contact the patient, so the patient can be notified and supported before they receive a letter. Soliday said she often will get a call from the radiology group about her patients if they see something in a scan.
There are 10,740 residents in Lincoln County, and residents over the age of 65 make up more than a quarter of the population. Accordingly, Lincoln Hospital offers preventive cancer screenings, but does not offer obstetrics, O’Connell said, due to the demographics. The critical access hospital has offered mammograms for several decades. Radiologic technologist Karyn Robinson, who has been at the hospital since 1992, has always done mammograms for patients.
“The idea behind mammography is standard of care,” O’Connell said, noting that primary care providers track their patients’ preventive cancer screenings as a part of their care.
From 2012 to 2016, there were 73 cases of breast cancer reported in Lincoln County, and when adjusted for age, the county has an average rate of breast cancer compared with the state average. In that same five-year time period, there were only eight breast cancer deaths in Lincoln County.
Not all insurance providers entirely cover the costs of a 3D mammogram, and Lincoln Hospital offers a rate similar to the sliding fee scale for these patients, so the additional cost is not a huge burden, O’Connell said. Additionally, the new machine can still do traditional mammograms, which most insurance companies will cover.
“It’s so nice to have things as local as we can get them,” McLaughlin said.
Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.
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