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New Ulm Medical Center

  Breast Care

Digital mammography at New Ulm Medical Center

Digital mammography is very best technology available for breast cancer detection

Radiology technologists stand next to the new digital mammography equipment

Radiology technologists (from left to right) Lynn Martinka, Leann Lendt, Janet Kral, Mary Donnelly, Jane Stueber and Sharon Retka perform mammograms with the new digital mammography equipment in the Radiology Department.

Only a radiology technologist who has seen the progression of mammograms from plain film x-rays to the incredibly crisp, detailed images of today's digital mammography would admire the contemporary images almost like someone admiring a piece of fine art.

"They're just gorgeous images – really beautiful," says Mary Donnelly, a technologist who has worked in radiology since before the advent of mammography as we know it today in the late 1980s. Between she and her fellow radiology technologists who perform mammography at New Ulm Medical Center (Janet Kral, Lynn Martinka, Sharon Retka, Leann Lendt and Jane Stueber), there is over 130 years of experience and a profound respect for how far the technology has come.

Digital mammography equipment was installed at New Ulm Medical Center in February 2008 when Allina Health invested $400,000 into the department for the upgrade.

To schedule a mammogram, call the Patient Information Center at 507-217-5150.

"We now have the very same digital mammography equipment they have at the Virginia Piper Cancer Institute," said Kathleen Bauer, manager of the New Ulm Medical Center radiology department.

There is very little difference for the patient experiencing a mammography with the old system to the new equipment except that the patient can now see the image on the screen immediately after it is captured. Also, there is less chance that the patient may have to come back to repeat the test in order to get a closer look at an area of concern because with the digital images, magnification of the original image is accomplished without compromising the integrity of the image.

From the radiologist's perspective, however, there is a world of difference. "The biggest advantage is for younger women in the 40 to 50-year range, who have denser breast tissue and for post-menopausal women with dense breasts," said Mareve Kayfes, MD, a radiologist with Consulting Radiology, Ltd. New Ulm Medical Center contracts with CRL for radiologist services. "With the film images, dense tissue would show up as a lot of white on the screen – searching for anomalies was like trying to find a polar bear in a blizzard."

With digital mammography, there is more contrast, Kayfes explained. The ability to magnify the image onscreen is also enormously beneficial to the search for abnormalities almost in the extreme. "With digital, the images are so crisp and clear we see things that we didn't see before. We have to re-learn what is normal," Kayfes said.

The radiologist also has the ability to lighten or darken the contrast in the image with the simple click of a button.

Radiology technologist Leanne Lendt remembers when mammograms were done only for diagnostic purposes as opposed to the now recommended annual screenings for women age 40 and older.

"We had the best equipment that was available in the analog (film) world," Lendt said. "Now we have the best that is available in the digital world. Digital mammography technology has only been approved by the FDA (Federal Drug Administration) within the last two years. This is really top-of-the line equipment. I am always telling patients how fortunate we are to have this technology in this area."

Bauer agrees that were it not for New Ulm Medical Center's affiliation with Allina Health, the expensive upgrade to digital mammography would not have been possible. "It really is a testament to their philosophy of 'One Allina' – they want all their facilities to be top-of-the-line, not just the metro sites," Bauer said. "That is evident in the placement of digital mammography in a rural area. Our volumes are far below the metro facilities and yet they made this huge investment in us for the benefit of our patients."