Installed two weeks ago and a first for the Panama City hospital, the $500,000 state-of-the-art device uses three-dimensional imagery to find signs of breast cancer easier and earlier, resulting in improved patient treatment outcomes.
PANAMA CITY — Charmon Whipple recently saw herself in a whole new light.
And in doing so, better ensured she was breast cancer free.
Whipple, an imaging system administrator at Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center, was one of the first women to be scanned by the hospital’s new mammography machine. Installed two weeks ago and a first for the Panama City hospital, the $500,000 state-of-the-art device uses three-dimensional imagery to find signs of breast cancer easier and earlier, resulting in improved patient treatment outcomes.
“It was something to see … the images were amazing compared to the old equipment,” Whipple said. “And it wasn’t different as far as position … it wasn’t painful at all.”
Unlike older, more traditional mammography machines, the new equipment produces a three-dimensional image. For women with dense breasts, that’s particularly important since that density sometimes can cloud views of cancerous tumors in traditional, two-dimensional mammograms, said Joe Perez, director of imagery services at Gulf Coast.
“Think of it like a book, where you can see one page at a time,” Perez said. “You’re looking at one slice of the image at a time, so you can see what’s in front of and behind that image.”
Perez said the hospital upgraded its mammogram technology in part with help from Hurricane Michael.
“With the hurricane, some of our equipment started breaking down more frequently,” Perez said. “We submitted a claim to insurance and the hospital kicked in extra capital to get a better unit.”
And the hospital didn’t skimp, buying the best machine of its kind on the market, Perez said.
“It’s the Cadillac of mammogram machines,” he said.
And the upgraded machine means potentially better care and outcomes for patients, said Dr. George Reiss, a breast cancer surgeon with Surgical Associates of Northwest Florida in Panama City.
“It’s a step up from traditional mammograms because it allows us to diagnose earlier, which is key because the earlier you diagnose it, the easier it is to treat,” Reiss said. “That’s what makes the difference.”
According to the Florida Department of Health, breast cancer is the second most common cause of death in women behind lung cancer. In 2016, 2,904 women in Florida died of breast cancer. Also, in 2015 there were 15,860 new cases of breast cancer among women.
Reiss said the hospital’s new machine will make it easier for him to treat many patients who are found to have breast cancer.
“The earlier it’s found, the smaller it is and the easier it is for me to address and improve the cure rate,” Reiss said.
Perez noted that his department has had a spike in patient volume this past year because of the hurricane that damaged or destroyed some clinics on Oct. 10. And that surge of patients has only risen because of the new machine, Perez said.
“Our schedule has been full every day since we got it,” he said. “We’ve got appointments two weeks out.”