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Whidbey General Hospital adds breast cancer diagnostic test

Early detection is one of the factors offering the best chance of survival from breast cancer. The latest detection technique offered by Whidbey General Hospital can give Whidbey Island women an even better chance.

Called stereotactic breast biopsy, the new procedure allows doctors to find cancer lesions too small to detect by touch. Dr. Nancy Neubauer, medical director of Diagnostic Radiology at Whidbey General, said the method is widely accepted for assessing certain breast lesions identified on mammograms.

"We are very excited to have this available here," Neubauer said.

The stereotactic procedure is used after changes have been detected in a mammogram. Breast abnormalities that require biopsy are frequently discovered during annual screening mammography, but in many cases when the area is still too small to be detected by touch. Stereotactic procedures are minimally invasive biopsy methods that can give the same results as an open surgical biopsy.

"It is less invasive than other types of biopsies," Neubauer said. "A breast biopsy procedure is a crucial step in diagnosing breast cancer at an early stage, when the chance for cure is greatest."

The LORAD MultiCare Stereotactic Breast Biopsy System ã which Whidbey General uses ã is a state-of-the-art system designed to improve the quality, accuracy and ease of breast biopsies.

Neubauer said the system uses computer-assisted technology to map the precise site of the breast abnormality before a tissue sample is taken for biopsy. Samples are obtained through a small incision in the skin, minimizing procedure time, tissue trauma and wound healing time.

"The system is unique and is designed for maximum patient comfort," she said.

The procedure takes about 40-60 minutes. A patient lies face down on a table with her breast placed through an opening. Breast compression paddles, the mammography unit, and the needle guidance stage are under the table.

A computerized coordinate system identifies the location of the lesion in the breast. The information is displayed on a digital image. The procedure is accurate to within one millimeter.

Tissue samples retrieved during the biopsy are submitted to pathology.

The unusual setup keeps patients comfortable, Neubauer said.

"A patient's anxiety is reduced, since the needle is not visible during the procedure." She said there is very little discomfort from the procedure.

After the procedure, the biopsy site is compressed for several minutes to reduce bleeding. The skin is subsequently cleansed and a small dressing is applied.

Patients typically return to normal non-strenuous activity following the procedure. Localized pain is usually managed with over-the-counter pain medications.

The American Cancer Society recommends that all women 40 years of age and over have a yearly screening mammagram, in association with annual clinical breast examinations and a monthly breast self-examination. Breast cancer is the second leading cause of death among women, exceeded only by lung cancer. Early detection has been shown to dramatically increase survival rates.

Cost and installation of the system was about $18,000, said Scott Rhine, administrator of WGH.

"We purchased a used and refurbished system from an outpatient imaging center in Everett," Rhine said.

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