Early detection is crucial in diagnosing and treating breast cancer. But screenings in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic have become more complicated, with many screening centers closing for a time and patients fearful to come into a hospital or clinic setting. Mather Hospital’s Fortunato Breast Health Center has responded with strict safety protocols designed to protect patients and staff.
“As always with breast cancer and other cancers, your best bet is to have an early diagnosis,” said Breast Center Co-Medical Director Michelle Price, MD. “The importance of early detection cannot be overstated. Therefore, we have adapted protocols so that we can continue to provide expert care in the setting of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The Breast Center recommends that women receive their first screening mammography at age 40 and continue annual screening every year thereafter. Many professional societies involved with the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer also continue to recommend annual screening mammography starting at age 40, including the Society for Breast Imaging, American College of Radiology and National Comprehensive Cancer Network. In some high-risk situations, screening may begin even earlier.
Strict safety protocols have been implemented at the Breast Center in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Price said this includes all staff and patients wearing masks at all times, everyone undergoing temperature checks when they arrive at the Breast Center, patients completing a COVID screening questionnaire about possible exposure to the virus, and the use of sanitizing gel.
“We no longer routinely have patients use waiting rooms, to minimize personal interactions,” said Dr. Price. “When patients arrive, they first call from their car, and are brought in one at a time for a streamlined experience.”
Where patients once routinely filled out a medical history form to provide information, the technologist now interviews the patient and records the pertinent data. This change eliminates the need for patients to handle a pen and paper.
“We have a socially distant protocol where the patient has very limited contact with anyone else, providing maximal safety. The technologist brings the patient to the mammography room, where she is provided a gown to change in to privately. When ready, the technologist enters the room and performs the mammogram. When the study is complete, the patient is again given privacy to get dressed, and she is escorted out of the department by the technologist. As has always been the case, the imaging equipment is thoroughly disinfected between patients. People seem very satisfied with what we have done from the point of safety protocols. It’s a similar setup they’ve experienced at other doctors’ offices,” said Dr. Price who stressed the importance of continuing with annual mammograms despite the pandemic.
“Early in the pandemic, non-urgent medical care was postponed, but now the situation has changed,” she said. “The current consensus is that screening should continue if it can be done safely. We have implemented protocols to maximize safety for patients and staff alike. Early detection of breast cancer offers us the best chance for successful treatment.”
The Fortunato Breast Center uses advanced 3D mammography that is designed to make screening more comfortable. The 3D mammography also offers sharper, clearer images for improved diagnostic accuracy all while providing the lowest radiation dose of all FDA approved mammography systems.
Fortunato Breast Center radiologists are specialists who only read breast imaging studies and look back as far as possible at a patient’s history of breast images for any subtle changes or abnormalities in order to provide the most accurate reading.
Should a patient have a breast cancer diagnosis, the Breast Center’s compassionate nurse navigators provide personal guidance with scheduling appointments for tests and follow-up procedures, getting prescriptions, insurance questions, and any other help patients may need. The Breast Center’s nurse navigators provide support throughout every step of the patients’ journey to recovery.
The Breast Center offers no cost or discounted mammography screenings for those individuals with low income and no health insurance. For more information, visit www. matherhospital.org/breasthealth or call 631-476-2771.
All photos courtesy of Mather Hospital