St. Luke’s hospital recently opened a breast health center to expedite care for women with breast health issues.

The Comprehensive Breast Program shortens the time frame of when people receive results and schedule appointments — which makes their experience with possible breast health issues less stressful, according to Dr. Jennifer Witt, who leads the center as its director. The center opened Oct. 1.

The unified center expedites the timeline for seeing primary care doctors, imaging, biopsies and the test results. People don’t have to wait several days. Instead, Witt said, they will be seen or receive results “essentially right away.”

If it's found to be breast cancer, then referrals to surgery and specialists are also sped up. Two full-time “nurse navigators” guide women through this process.

“When you have something in your breast — whether it is a breast cancer or whether it is a totally benign problem, a totally non-cancerous problem — that time that you spend is incredibly anxiety-evoking to them,” she said.

Breast cancer is among the leading causes of cancer deaths in the U.S. Twenty people for every 100,000 people died from breast cancer in the U.S. in 2016, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Cancer Institute.

During the center’s first days of operation, Witt said they’ve heard mainly appreciation from women. “It's really scary for women to feel something in their breast. ... And so what we are hearing is gratitude for just getting them … exactly what they need as quickly as possible in a really supported way,” she said.

Eventually, when the center further establishes itself, it will pursue breast center accreditation. While it can operate as a breast center without, accreditation stamps the center with a “commitment to coordinated, excellent breast care” label, she said.

In addition to the nurse navigators, the center also staffs several general surgeons, plastic surgeons, breast radiologists, radiation oncologists, medical oncologists, pathologists, physical therapists, a cancer pharmacist, psychologists, a dietitian, a lymphedema massage specialist, physician assistants and social workers.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and Witt reminded all women to get screened. Duluth’s Enger Tower will be lit pink on Wednesday night as another reminder to get checked.

"It is startling in our community that there's a lot of misconceptions about who should be screened, when they should be screened, how often you should be screened,” Witt said. “I don't care where you go to get it, but it is a huge health risk and early detection absolutely saves lives.”