Emory Report
October 25, 2004
Volume 57, Number 9


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October 25 , 2004
Breast Imaging Center brings easy mammograms to campus

BY Eric Rangus

It wasn’t that long ago when a woman had to wait months for a mammogram appointment. Even diagnostic appointments, scheduled after a breast abnormality was found in the initial screening, were massively backed up.

Fortunately, because of increased awareness of the dangers of breast cancer—something one in eight women will experience in their lifetimes—and a vastly improved system of care, those long waits are a thing of the past. At Emory’s Breast Imaging Center, a part of the Winship Cancer Institute (WCI), screening mammograms can be scheduled in two or three days. For diagnostic exams, the time often is one day.

“Imagine being told there is something wrong, but you can’t get an appointment for three months; that’s just not right,” said Carl D’Orsi, assistant professor of radiology and director of the Breast Imaging Center.

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month; the campaign, now in its 19th year, is dedicated to educating women about breast cancer, especially the importance of detecting the disease in its earliest stages through screening mammography. The Breast Imaging Center is doing its part to make that process easier.

To coincide with Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the center created a phone number, 404-778-PINK (7465), for scheduling mammograms. In addition to scheduling appointments, anyone who calls with breast health questions can be routed quickly in the right direction.

The center also is distributing a new brochure to all its patients detailing what they can expect from a screening mammography—the standard breast x-rays women over 40 should have each year—and a diagnostic mammography—which is performed if an abnormality is found during the initial screening.

“There are certain circumstances, such as multiple relatives with pre-menopausal malignancy, when mammograms should be started earlier,” D’Orsi said. “We look at the ages where these malignancies begin and start seeing these women at that age, usually around 30.” D’Orsi added that all women between the ages of 20–39 should still have clinical breast exams every three years and that self exams also are important.

The center sees between 12,000–15,000 women a year. There often is a slight increase each October because of the breast-health promotion, but D’Orsi said most women are knowledgeable of the importance of mammograms, and stay aware throughout the year.

All the screenings are performed at the center’s facility in the 1525 building. Diagnostic mammograms are performed at the center’s Winship location on the first floor of the institute. Fortunately, most patients never get that far.

D’Orsi said between 10–12 percent of the center’s patients receive diagnostic mammograms and most are dismissed following it. Only about 1 percent of the center’s patients require a biopsy, which could then lead to future surgery if cancer is detected.

Technological advances such as digital imaging are playing increasingly prominent roles in cancer detection. Rather than being printed on traditional x-ray film, images are taken digitally, which allows physicians to manipulate them. The technology is so advanced that in some cases lumps as small as 3–4 millimeters can be found. The center also is moving into magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

“The power of MRI is that you are getting physiological information,” D’Orsi said. “With [traditional] mammograms, you only get anatomical information. There is a mass, but you don’t know anything about its blood supply.”

The center is at the forefront with state-of-the-art clinical care as well. Including D’Orsi, five radiologists work at the center performing mammograms at least half the time. Beyond the core staff, oncologists, pathologists and surgeons are affiliated with the center, and they fill a variety of roles along the continuum. In all, Emory’s Breast Cancer Program boasts more than two dozen doctors.

“We want to make care seamless for patients,” said Toncred Styblo, associate professor of surgery in the Division of Surgical Oncology, a specialist in breast disease and a member of the Breast Cancer Program. “We all have special expertise and we try to work together to make sure patients see a team taking care of them.”

The Breast Imaging Center is one of the most active groups in the country with regard to mammography research. Its current grant-funded projects, which include a new study on stereoscopic, three-dimensional breast imaging, number upwards of $3 million. D’Orsi said proposals have already been written that could triple that amount.

While the importance of mammography is well known across campus and around the country, D’Orsi still has an important message for the Emory community: “We want our Emory family to come here,” he said, adding that while Emory faculty and staff make up a certain percent of center patients, it could be larger. “We want to treat our women. That’s part of the reason why created the new phone number. We want to make it easier for Emory employees to come here and take advantage of our facilities.”