Walk into the Diagnostic Imaging Center at Aspen Valley Hospital (AVH) and you may wonder if you're inside a medical facility at all. The walls are papered with photos, cartoons, inspirational quotes and thank you notes from patients. The lighting and the chairs are soft. And the staff is likely to greet you with a hug and a cup of herbal tea.
Along with the cozy atmosphere, however, is a steely determination to provide great breast health services.
"We're serious about providing great care in an atmosphere that is positive, encouraging and supportive," said Debbie Demeulenaere, the center's Lead Mammography Technologist. "Everyone who comes to us is in a unique situation, but they all need help - that's why we're here."
Breast screenings save lives
Women with average risk of breast cancer should have a comprehensive breast screening, including a mammogram and clinical breast exam, every year starting at age 40. Women with increased risk should speak with their physician about starting screenings earlier or having them more often. May experts also encourage women to perform breast self-exams and report any changes to their physician.
Promoting awareness and testing
Most of us know the importance of breast health screenings. Yet only about 65% of all U.S. women age 40 or older had a mammogram in 2013-14, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
Busy lifestyles, perceptions about discomfort during screening, and the fear of "finding something" are common reasons women don't stay current with screenings. While those are understandable concerns, they should not stop any woman from potentially lifesaving screenings.
"A mammogram takes only 10 to 15 minutes to complete, and the discomfort is short and very tolerable," said Lora Barke, DO, Section Chief for Breast Imaging for Radiology Imaging Associates (RIA), which provides diagnostic imaging services for AVH. "Even more important, aVH's 3D digital mammography provides unprecedented image quality for more accurate results."
In most cases, the patient's referring physician has the results in a few days. If th escreening reveals an area of concern, AVH staff will work with the patient and her physician to schedule further testing.
"The vast majority of patients don't need additional screenings, so annual screenings simply offer peace of mind," said Louie Enriquez, MD, Medical Director of Breast Imaging at AVH. "For the small percentage of women who do need additional treatment, the 3D technology helps us find areas of concern early, when they are more treatable."
When a patient needs additional care, AVH contracts with physicians in Denver who visit Aspen two days per week to help with next steps in the patient's care plan. AVH also offers the services of a nurse navigator, Healther Milne, who defines her role as "guiding patients through the cancer process, whatever thaty may be."
FACT: The Breast Health Center at AVH offers a free screening mammogram to any woman during the year of her 40th birthday.
Among their other efforts, Milne and Demeulenaere create opportunities for peer support, such as inviting current and former patients to social gatherings. "For many women," Milne said, "it's important to have that camaraderie, to share experiences, and to network so they don't feel alone after a cancer diagnosis.