Spokane Journal of Business

Sacred Heart awaits new mobile mammography unit

Foundation here raises $1.2 million for replacement coach and equipment

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The Sacred Heart Medical Center Foundation has raised $1.2 million to replace that center's mammography coach and related equipment.

Since 1999, the Sacred Heart Women's Health Center coach has been traveling to Inland Northwest businesses, retirement centers, clinics, and hospitals offering recommended annual screening mammograms, which are done to help detect breast cancer early for the best chance at successful treatment.

Julie Emery, manager of the Women's Health Center, says the longtime coach has seen better days: "It's just really wearing out. It just wasn't made for what we're asking it to do."

Also, the mammography equipment inside the coach uses film, a technology that is being replaced widely with digital equipment, Emery says. Film-based mammography requires set-up time each day the coach is in service, while digital equipment does not, and the extra time could be used to provide more mammograms, she says.

Inland Imaging LLC, of Spokane, reads the mammograms, looking for anything suspicious, and reports results to the women's doctors. Unlike such screening mammograms, diagnostic mammograms are performed later on patients who have signs or symptoms of a problem, says Inland Imaging spokesman Jason Miller. With the coach in service four to five days a week, it has been providing about 2,500 to 3,000 screening mammograms each year, Emery says.

The new 45-foot-long coach—made by Prevost, a Canadian manufacturer—should be on the road by this summer and will be able to handle the mileage and terrain the coach is subjected to better than the old coach. It will be fitted with digital mammography equipment, Emery says.

The old mammography coach has been operated by the Women's Health Center for about a decade. Emery predicts the new coach and equipment will improve efficiency enough to provide about 25 percent more mammograms.

Precision Coach Inc., based in Langley, British Columbia, will convert the bus shell into the mobile mammography unit, she says.

Meanwhile, Inland Imaging says it has launched a yearlong campaign—"Every Woman Can"—to get more women to get their annual mammogram. Recent national data show a decline in the number of women receiving annual mammograms, and Inland Imaging says its own investigation shows that Spokane-area women fall below the national average in having mammograms done. It says that nearly half of Spokane women age 40 to 69 aren't receiving an annual mammogram.

"It's pretty startling, to see only half are getting these screenings," says Miller.

It's important to identify and diagnose breast cancer early for successful treatment, Miller says, and Inland Imaging recommends women age 40 and older have a screening yearly even if they're in good health.

To prepare for this year's campaign, Inland Imaging's investigation about trends here included hiring a local research firm to identify factors that encourage women to get the annual screening, and also to find what deters them from doing so, Miller says.

Robinson Research, of Spokane, conducted a phone survey for Inland Imaging of 547 Spokane women, age 40 to 70, to collect data to identify factors that either encourage women to have annual screening mammograms or deter them from doing so, Miller says.

"The purpose was to determine respondents' attitudes toward mammograms," he says. "There's really no reason why" any woman in that age group should not be getting an annual mammogram, he says. "No matter what the barrier is, there are ways around it."

The primary reason why women don't get the screenings, Robinson Research found, is lack of time, Miller says. With digital mammography technology, it takes only about 20 minutes to complete a mammogram, he says. Also to overcome the time and convenience barrier, Miller says, Inland Imaging is offering screening mammograms on a walk-in basis.

Another barrier described by some of the Spokane women surveyed is that they don't have the money to pay for the screening or they lack the necessary insurance coverage. Miller says local and national funds are available to reduce the cost for low-income, uninsured, or underinsured women, or even to pay for the screening. Miller says Inland Imaging will help women find the resources they need.

"We have all the phone numbers, we have all the resources to point them in the right direction," he says.

Some women surveyed indicated they don't believe they are at risk of getting breast cancer, and an exam isn't necessary, he says. Some also are under the impression that because they don't have a family history or don't carry a genetic mutation associated with breast cancer, they are immune.

Inland Imaging, citing National Cancer Institute data, says that of the more than 192,000 American women who learn they have breast cancer every year, only 5 percent to 10 percent have a hereditary form of the disease.

Miller says Inland Imaging will be working to address these primary barriers to testing during its campaign.

"We'll be trying to communicate with area women that the exam doesn't take as long as it used to," says Miller. Inland Imaging has several mammography events in the early planning stages through which it will seek to encourage women to have an annual screening mammogram.

Inland Imaging acquired and installed two new $250,000 digital mammography machines last year, one in September at its Spokane Valley imaging center, located at 12420 E. Mission, and one in June at its Holy Family Hospital imaging center, at 5715 N. Lidgerwood. It now has three such machines at Holy Family, three in the Valley, and two at its Sacred Heart Medical Center imaging center, at 105 W. Eighth.

Miller says Inland Imaging plans to get another new unit this year, either for the Sacred Heart location or its Deer Park imaging center.

  • David Cole

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