COVID-19 has changed the way we do almost everything over the last couple of years, but one thing that remains as important as ever is the need for routine mammograms to screen for breast cancer.
Crestwood Medical Center is just one of the many local facilities where both men and women can be screened and treated for breast cancer. Just this year, Crestwood received a Breast Imaging Center of Excellence Designation from the American College of Radiology.
“So basically, a facility has to be accredited in mammography, in breast ultrasound, including ultrasound-guided biopsy, stereotactic breast biopsy and breast MRI,” Julie McCain, Women’s Imaging Manager at Crestwood, said. “The reason why it’s important for us is so that our patients know that we’re doing everything we can to have state of the art technology and service and patient outcome, patient care. So having that designation was just kind of a recognition for our facility and something that we can share with our community.”
To receive and maintain those accreditations, the facility is evaluated based on several factors, including: the facility’s structure, patient outcomes, staffing credentials, imaging quality, and how findings are reported, among other things. Crestwood has been accredited in mammography for several years and has been steadily collecting accreditations in the other fields to be able to earn the designation.
Crestwood offers 2D and 3D screening and diagnostic mammograms in addition to their other services. One technology that has been life-changing for individuals with more invasive, rare types of breast cancer has been breast MRI. The imaging that MRI provides has allowed medical professionals at Crestwood to have a better picture of these cancers, which may spread to lymph nodes and other systems if not caught quickly.
“Basically, it’s doing everything we can to find out everything that’s going on with that patient once they’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer so that we can more appropriately treat that breast cancer to prevent it coming back down the road and basically give the patient the best possible outcome,” McCain said. “That’s what it’s all about—it’s all about the outcomes.”
One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, McCain said, so it is of utmost importance to ensure women are attending routine mammograms beginning at age 40.
COVID-19 shutdowns in early 2020 drove all screenings to a screeching halt for a short time, but McCain said Crestwood has since recovered from the hiatus and is now on a regular schedule with patients.
The office is very particular about ensuring patients have plenty of notice when their yearly screening is approaching, sending communication one month before a mammogram is due, six months after a missed screening and again 12 months after a missed screening. McCain said that the office still observes strict COVID-19 safety precautions, including social distancing and masking requirements.
“We wanted to make sure that our staff was safe and that our patients were safe to come back,” McCain said.
Another unexpected COVID-related challenge came after the vaccine rollout. Some women who received the vaccine experienced some swelling in their lymph nodes, which would typically be a concern if detected in a mammogram. For that reason, COVID-19 vaccination status is noted during routine mammograms, and women are asked to reschedule mammograms either before their first dose or 4-6 weeks after their second dose to ensure there is no confusion.
For individuals who may be hesitant to schedule a screening, McCain suggests they call her at the Breast Center so she can help address their concerns on an individual level. The Breast Center can be reached at 256-429-4700, and staff are available Monday-Friday 7 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
“We do not have a huge backlog, so we can get patients in right away to get them back on a screening regimen,” McCain said. “We have the advantage of being a dedicated breast center. That is all we do, and my staff is very passionate, so I think, first and foremost, if a patient has a hesitation, if they’ve been putting it off and have some concerns, I would love to chat with them one-on-one and alleviate their concerns so that we can get them taken care of.”