FEATURE: Latest technology helps tackle breast cancer

Imaging Manager Robert Ward with the new imaging equipment
Imaging Manager Robert Ward with the new imaging equipment
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The room has a gentle pink hue; as we watch it slowly turn to a warming lilac, before giving way to a wash of calming blue.

Somebody popping their head around the door could be forgiven for thinking they’d sauntered into a day spa’s relaxation suite. And that’s the idea.

Imaging Manager Robert Ward

Imaging Manager Robert Ward

In fact this is the home of BMI Thornbury Hospital’s new digital mammogram machine - the first private unit of its type in South Yorkshire.

Imaging manager Rob Ward is giving us a tour of the £200,000 machine, which has been installed, complete with soothing mood lighting, and guarantees better image resolution, enabling even very small abnormalities to be detected faster.

“It’s an upgrade from the old analogue mammography machines,” explains Rob.

“This digital method is quicker, better quality and it allows us to identify the smallest discrepancies, meaning there is less chance of things getting missed or misdiagnosed.

Comparing images

Comparing images

“It completely gets rid of that extra step we had with our analogue machines, where we needed to capture the image onto a different source, load it up and confirm the image was okay before allowing our patients to get re-dressed and on their way.

“The lighting system, which is not part of the scanning process itself, was an optional extra added to the machine to help soothe any tensions our patients may feel during the examination.”

Breast cancer is still the second biggest cancer killer in the UK, killing 12,000 of the 55,000 women diagnosed with the disease every year. However, research has proven that early detection is key, with 85 per cent of those diagnosed now surviving beyond five years.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine recently looked at 49,000 women with no known signs of breast cancer, and compared digital mammograms to film mammograms taken of the same women. Breast cancer was found in 335 of the women. The researchers determined that digital mammograms did a better job detecting the disease among women under the age of 50, those with dense breasts and those who hasn’t yet gone through menopause, or who had been in menopause for less than a year.

The amazing detail that its possible to achieve with the new digital scans

The amazing detail that its possible to achieve with the new digital scans

The new digital mammogram screening involves a radiographer positioning a patient’s breast between the machine’s two plates, which flattens and compresses it. The radiographer then takes images of the breast from top to bottom and side to side. With this new digital technology, the x-rays are turned into electric signals that can be stored long-term on a computer, in the same way a digital camera takes and stores pictures.

Another benefit of the new digital method includes a lower average radiation dosage than with film mammograms, as digital mammograms often allow more views to be taken of each breast with about 25 per cent less radiation.

“That makes the arrival of this digital machine in the city great news for Sheffield residents,” says Rob.

And Rob isn’t just speaking about the city’s female population, with one-two per cent of the UK’s breast cancer diagnoses being given to men.

Relaxing lighting in the new mamography room

Relaxing lighting in the new mamography room

“We’ve had about 100 women try this machine so far and a handful of men too,” Rob confirms.

“Everyone has appreciated the improved comfort and after two months introducing the machine gently, and making sure everybody is happy with it, we’re getting ready to give it the big launch we feel it deserves.”

The hospital will throw its doors open later this month so people can get a closer look at the facilities for themselves, which Rob says is all part of trying to make people feel more comfortable with these types of screening tests.

“Obviously we are a hospital, and we can’t get away from that fact, but we want people to feel as comfortable here as they can,” Rob adds.

And in addition to the screening it offers, the new mammogram machine can even take biopsy samples - a service Thornbury will be launching later this month.

“Our staff are busy training for that now,” says Rob.

The BMI Thornbury Hospital, Fullwood Rd

The BMI Thornbury Hospital, Fullwood Rd

“This will mean that, rather than having to undergo different procedures in different departments, patients will be able to get everything done in one sitting and in one place, so it saves time and reduces the stress on them.

“Our scan time is just about ten minutes now, and that includes all the preparations so it really is a quick process.”

Visit BMI Thornbury Hospital to find out more about the Sheffield hospital’s launch event on February 18, from 6.30pm to 9.30pm. Email adam.henderson@bmihealthcare.co.uk to book your place.

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The BMI Thornbury Hospital, Fullwood Rd'''''The BMI Thornbury Hospital, Fullwood Rd ''''''''''''''''''The BMI Thornbury Hospital, Fullwood Rd