Northwest NEWS

November 12, 2001


Evergreen strives to keep pace with increased mammogram demand

by Jeanette Knutson
   Staff Writer
   Women are "getting" it. Hundreds and hundreds of newsprint column inches and years of radio and television spots dedicated to encouraging women to get yearly mammograms after the age of 40 have sunk in.
   And with statistics such as "one in eight women will get breast cancer," it is no wonder many Eastside mammography facilities are booked solid. In fact, some are scheduling appointments as far out as 18 weeks from the day of request.
   It is unfortunate that just at the time some women are beginning to heed the medical advice of the ongoing media barrage, hospital budgets are shrinking and the scheduling of an appointment for a mammogram to take place within a few days or a week of the request is getting more and more difficult.
   Only a couple years ago, private doctors administered mammograms in their offices. Changes in the business environment, however, caused many doctors not only to rethink offering the service, but to opt out of the mammography business altogether. This, in turn, increased demand at other existing breast imaging centers.
   Valley Medical Center in Renton, Overlake Hospital Medical Center in Bellevue and Evergreen Hospital Medical Center in Kirkland all saw the changes coming and realized their facilities needed updating in order to accommodate the anticipated demand.
   Valley Medical is nearing completion of a $2.2 million Breast Center. Overlake's Breast Center is part of a $6 million Cancer Center the hospital recently built.
   And Evergreen has a $2.8 million Women's Imaging Center expansion underway, as well.
   All three hospitals, though, are experiencing a lag time between the day the appointment is made and the date the procedure is to take place. A phone call to each of the hospital's mammography scheduling offices indicated Overlake's lag time seemed to be the longest; Valley Medical's, the shortest; and Evergreen's, somewhere in the middle.
   Kendra Weil, hospital spokeswoman for Evergreen, said, "We are currently experiencing an increase in appointments, with it taking anywhere from six to 10 weeks to get in for a routine examination. Anything other than routine will be accommodated as soon as possible.
   We anticipate a dramatic decrease in the time it takes to schedule an appointment once our Women's Imaging Center expansion is complete in June of next year," said Weil.
   The hospital's business plan set a goal of increasing community access by 50 percent. To do this, it purchased the former Washington Imaging Services LLC facility, located across from the hospital on 120th Avenue Northeast. The facility - already in use and, obviously, no longer operating under the Washington Imaging Services name - adds one more mammography unit to the hospital's arsenal of four.
   Expansion of the existing 6,000-square-foot Imaging Center by 2,000 square feet, which began last month, will add more room for screening and diagnostic work and two new mammography machines, bringing the hospital's total to seven.
   Additionally, hours have been extended at the center to accommodate the increased traffic.
   Besides the mammography units and the ability to perform ultrasounds, Evergreen owns a computer aided detection device, the R2 ImageChecker.
   As of two months ago, there were only 200 such machines in the entire country. This computer-aided detection device finds almost 20 percent more breast cancers than normal mammography, according to a study published in the September issue of Radiology.
   It works by electronically scanning X-ray film and converting it to a digital image readable by a computer. The radiologist still studies the actual mammogram X-ray for irregularities.
   But by pressing a button on the display unit, radiologists are able to view a digital image of the mammogram on which suspicious areas scanned by the computer have been highlighted.
   Women's Imaging Center also includes a stereotactic breast biopsy unit. For certain types of breast abnormalities, stereotactic breast biopsies offer an alternative to an open surgical biopsy.
   And the center's newest diagnostic tool is the sentinel node biopsy.
   Following a breast cancer diagnosis, physicians use a blue dye and radioisotope tracers to identify the lymph node most likely to contain a tumor if the cancer has spread. If a biopsy detects no cancer in that lymph node, there is no need to continue with removal of more nodes, the current standard of care.
   Because the sentinel node biopsy is minimally invasive, women experience fewer complications.
   As of June 2001, Evergreen was performing 1,100 mammograms per month. October 2001 numbers increased to 1,700 per month, and the center projects 2,200 to 2,500 women will be screened per month by mid 2002.