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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Breast Health: Tackling the Fear Factor

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Thursday, February 02, 2006

from left, Diane Saunders, Debra Corkins, and Pauline Davis surround a new mammography unit installed last month at the North Adams Regional Hospital.
North Adams - Thinking about breast cancer is frightening for most women.

Facts about the cancer may be intimidating; in 2006, over 211,000 women are likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer and of those women, 43,000 will likely die, according to information offered by the National Breast Cancer Foundation. Harder to comprehend may be the cancer's direct impact on men; 1600 men are expected to receive a breast cancer diagnosis this year and about 400 of them will die, according to the foundation.

But there is positive news. When detected at its early stages, the five-year breast cancer survival rate is at more than 95 percent. And mammograms are considered among the most effective methods of early breast cancer detection in use today.

The Fear Factor

So why are many Northern Berkshire women, including those over age 40, avoiding mammograms?

Fear is a factor for many women, said REACH Foundation Vice-president of Operations Betty Chludzinski.

"Many women have fears and some women just don't want to know," she said during a Feb. 2 interview at her Northern Berkshire Healthcare office. "It's so important for women to know that the majority of women come away from a mammogram just fine."


The mammography unit adjusts to almost any position.
The REACH Foundation's REACH for Breast Health program is very focused on improving the Northern Berkshire mammogram rate as well as offering financial and support services to those affected by the cancer.

New Mammography Unit In Place

Polly Macpherson has been hired to serve as the program's manager through a Susan G. Komen Foundation grant, and a new mammography unit was installed last month at the North Adams Regional Hospital. The unit was purchased at a cost of just under $100,000, said Betsy Dearstyne, the manager of the hospital's imaging department and was put into use beginning in late January.

The unit is a Lorad M-IV Platinum Hologic machine and is much more compact than older models. The unit takes a clearer picture and offers even, consistent breast compression during a mammogram, said licensed, registered X-ray and mammography technicians Debra Corkins, Pauline Davis, and Diane Saunders. Davis, Corkins and Saunders are among the technicians who received a two-day training focused on operating the new equipment.

The unit may be easily positioned at a variety of angles and its' smaller size makes it easier to accommodate those who cannot stand at the machine, such as persons using wheelchairs.

Those acquiring a mammogram on the new unit or an older unit may request a "mammopad," which is a foam cushion that covers the "bucky receptor" [flat surface that supports the breast during a mammogram] but does not compromise the image, Corkins said. There is a $5 charge for a mammopad because the item must be thrown away after one use.

Some women have reported an increased comfort level after using a pad during a mammogram, Davis and Corkins said.

Tackling Barriers

The breast health program is tackling and eliminating barriers to breast health care, said NBH Director of Community Relations Paul Hopkins. Mammograms are available to nearly any woman who seeks one, regardless of ability to pay, Hopkins said.

"We've been on a years long quest to get women to this service," he said. "If someone doesn't have a dime to their name, we will find a way to deliver this service."

"Money should not be an issue, we will make it happen," said Chludzinski.

A "mammopad" may make mammograms more comfortable.


The hospital provided over 5,000 mammograms in 2005 and an awareness campaign that enlisted the aid of specifically selected beauty salons achieved its' goal of 200 mammograms to women who had not had the screening in two years or more. Mammograms may be scheduled Mon.-Fri, and may also be scheduled during Tuesday and Thursday evenings until 8 p.m., Hopkins noted.

A trio of screenings are among the most effective early detection strategies, said Chludzinski, Dearstyne, Davis, Corkins, and Saunders. Monthly self examination, and annual clinical breast examinations [usually done by a physician] and mammograms often lead to early detection. Women who conduct monthly self-examinations may be best able to detect lumps or other abnormalities within their breasts, said Chludzinski.

"You know your own body better than anyone else," she said.

Monthly self-examination should occur just after menstrual bleeding concludes; women who have reached menopause should set a specific date for the exam, such as the first day of the month, Chludzinski said.

Free monthly breast examinations are offered at the hospital. The women's health screening schedule is publicized in local newspapers and at the www.iberkshires.com web site. Plans are underway to offer men's and women's health screenings at the same time to boost convenience for people, Hopkins said.

Outreach, Education, Care Navigation

The REACH for Breast Health program is a comprehensive initiative that goes beyond screenings and diagnosis, Chludzinski said. The Eileen Barrett Support Group is among the program resources.

The program will mold itself to specific women, rather than requiring women to adapt to a pre-conceived program mold, Chludzinski said.


Debra Corkins uses a patient information center installed in the room with a new mammography unit.
"This is outreach, education, care navigation, and we mean from the time a woman has a worrisome mammogram right through to treatment," she said. "A lot of the education focuses on choices; breast cancer treatment has become complicated. It's no more one or two options for everyone. Women's needs vary tremendously. Some women really need a lot of support and other women simply have a 'tell me what I need to know' approach."

Whatever the needs of a woman, the program is there to help, said Dearstyne and Chludzinski.

"We'd love to see more people," Dearstyne said.

Additional information about the REACH for Breast Health program or any of the program's services may be acquired by calling 413-664-5326.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.
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