Memorial Health Care System recently began operating the area’s first dedicated breast MRI scanner, a device that extends local doctors’ ability to prevent and evaluate breast cancers.
“I’ve been fighting to help get it here for well over a year. It’s a tool that is part of the bigger picture of management of breast patients,” said Dr. Maurice Rawlings Jr., co-medical director of Memorial’s MaryEllen Locher Breast Center.
A dedicated machine pictures clearly the back of the breast, the armpit side of the breast, and the lymph nodes in the armpit area, said Kathy Dittmar, director of Memorial’s MaryEllen Locher Breast Center.
An MRI, or magnetic resonance image, uses magnetic fields and radio waves to create pictures of soft tissues, such as muscle and fat. Dye is delivered into the body through a needle inserted into a vein.
Doctors use the MRI along with mammograms (breast x-rays) and ultrasounds, to get as complete a picture as possible, Dr. Rawlings said.
The Aurora dedicated breast MRI cost $1.7 million, said Karen Sloan, a hospital spokeswoman.
A scan costs, on average, about $3,700, not including fees for a radiologist to read the results. Prices vary depending on a patient’s insurance plan and other factors, she added.
Because of its expense, the machine is only used for patients with high breast-cancer risk who have breast implants or who are being diagnosed for suspected cancers spotted in mammograms (chest x-rays) or breast ultrasounds, Ms. Dittmar said.
In the past, area patients had to travel to Nashville, Knoxville and Atlanta for such a scan, Ms. Dittmar said.
Memorial was approved this year for a “certificate of need” with the state’s Health Service and Development Agency in order to purchase the machine, according to a recent news release.
Memorial estimates it may conduct 1,000 scans in the first year of operation, and 1,250 scans in the second year, the news release reports.
Esther Suggs, 41-year-old owner of Esther Sugg’s Allstate Agency on East Brainerd Road, said she found Memorial’s dedicated breast MRI helpful in her cancer treatment.
“I was really excited to be able to use it. I thought, ‘Thank goodness I don’t have to travel to Nashville’ — I don’t need any more stress,” Ms. Suggs said.
“The machine wasn’t uncomfortable, it wasn’t painful,” she added. “And this machine has such great detail, it gives you the confidence to realize it really is gone. it gives you peace of mind.”