Mammography exams go digital at Gould hospital

Posted Jan. 20, 2010, at 7:42 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:35 a.m.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — The Aroostook Medical Center earlier this week became the first hospital in The County to offer digital mammography to its patients. It will be available at TAMC’s A.R. Gould Memorial Hospital for routine screenings and diagnostic testing.

In addition to shorter procedure times, women will have peace of mind knowing that the images produced by the new technology are the clearest, most detailed available, Tim McMahon, senior manager for cardiopulmonary and imaging services, said Wednesday.

“This has been in the planning stages for three or four years,” he said. “To have this machine, you need to have digital imagining capabilities, and you have to have radiologists and technologists on board. That takes time.”

Before the establishment of digital mammography in Presque Isle, most clients had to travel to Bangor for such service.

Officials at TAMC said that both traditional film and digital mammography equipment use X-rays to capture images of the breasts. Analog mammography systems use X-ray films. While the images are good, they take time to develop. Patients have to wait for the technician to develop the film and review the images to make sure a retake isn’t necessary.

Images from a digital mammography machine are more like pictures from a modern digital camera, explained McMahon. They are extremely detailed and can be viewed right away.

The technician can review the images immediately. Since there is no film to develop, McMahon added, patients typically spend less time in the mammography room.

After the procedure, a radiologist reviews the digital images on a computer screen. The radiologist can zoom in on areas of the image, which can help with detecting abnormalities.

“The technology has the greatest benefit for women 50 years of age and younger,” said Lana McNamee, mammography coordinator at TAMC. “It also has advantages for women with very dense breasts, who will now be able to stay right here in Aroostook County for their annual screening.”

According to McNamee, with digital mammography, patients are less likely to need to come back for further testing.

While McMahon could not disclose how much TAMC paid for the machine, he said the hospital received “a substantial discount.”

“These machines can run 1½ to four times the cost of a normal mammography machine,” he said.

McMahon said the transition from the old machine to the new one has been smooth. Staff members have undergone the necessary training. The American College of Radiology also has certified the facility.

At this point, McMahon said, TAMC already sees about 5,000 patients through its mammography department. He expects the new technology will attract more patients, and the hospital is prepared for the increase, he said.

Along with adding digital mammography, TAMC recently enhanced its women’s health services by purchasing a new digital bone density machine.