A better way to fight cancer

health: St. Luke's is the first hospital in the region to use digital mammogram technology, which may detect breast cancer earlier that traditional mammograms in some women.

health: St. Luke's is the first hospital in the region to use digital mammogram technology, which may detect breast cancer earlier that traditional mammograms in some women.

The statistics are eye-pop_ping: One in seven women will be diagnosed with breast can_cer in her lifetime. Of those, nearly one in four will die from it, according to the Na_tional Cancer Institute.

Housed in a small exam room in St. Luke's Regional Breast Center is a new tech_nology that will go a long way toward aiding the fight against breast cancer in the North_land.

St. Luke's hospital has begun offering a digital mam_mogram technology that for some women may help detect cancer earlier than previous screening methods.

The digital screening pro_cess is still relatively new, having been approved for use by the Food and Drug Admin_istration in 2000. The St. Luke's machine was approved in 2004, according to the FDA.


Thus far, St. Luke's is the only medical facility in the Northland to offer the technol_ogy, which is already in de_mand.

``In the past we've gotten phone calls asking if we have this service,'' said Scott Stud_den, St. Luke's director of di_agnostic imaging.

SMDC spokeswoman Kim Kaiser said the health system is looking at purchasing digi_tal mammography equipment for use sometime next year.

Unlike older mammograms, digital screening does not use film when it takes the X-ray but downloads the image di_rectly to a computer.

The computerized image is far sharper and more detailed, Studden said, allowing techni_cians to better see masses, lumps or possible tumors.

Film mammograms appear gray and blurry compared to the digital pictures.

And unlike film mammo_grams, readers of a digital image can zoom in and adjust the contrast and brightness to better see tissue.

``It produces absolutely beautiful pictures,'' said Caro_lyn Hausch, a nurse and coor_dinator of St. Luke's Breast Center.


That's not to say that tradi_tional mammography hasn't been effective. A study by the National Cancer Institute found no difference between the two types of mammograms for women older than 50 or those who have gone through menopause.

But for women 50 and youn_ger, women who were pre- or perimenopausal or who had denser breast tissue, the digi_tal screening was found to be better at detecting breast can_cer than traditional film mam_mography.

``The types of lesions that were found by digital mammo_graphy and not by film in these subgroups of the women were the types of cancers that can lead to death,'' the report found.

Studden and others at St. Luke's hope the technology will encourage more women to get breast exams.

Though the American Can_cer Institute advises women younger than 40 to get a mam_mogram every one to two years, a study by the Bridge to Health survey found that 15.4 percent of women ages 40 to 49 in the Northland said they've never had a mammogram.

Overall, 7.6 percent of women 40 and older through_out the Northland said they had never had a mammogram. More than 76 percent said they had gotten a mammogram within the past two years.

Hausch said there already has been an increase in ap_pointments made by women who want to use the digital mammography screening.

Hausch said that, though it's a new technology, women who are uninsured or underin_sured can go through Minne_sota or Wisconsin government aid programs to help pay for digital screenings.BRANDON STAHL3 covers health care. He can be reached weekdays at (218) 720-4154 or by e-mail at .

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