First mobile mammography unit with digital capability in Arkansas

JONESBORO -- A medical first for Region 8 is growing in demand.  St. Bernards now has the first digital mammography available on a mobile unit in Arkansas.   The cutting-edge technology comes at a pivotal time for women struggling to make ends meet in the current economy.

It's on the road two to three days a week.  Now, the mobile mammography unit operated by St. Bernards is receiving calls from as far away as Lonoke county, near Little Rock.

"I would hate to see women forego their mammogram because it is very important in survival of breast cancer to catch it early," said Dr. Ellen McDaniel, a radiologist with St. Bernards Imaging Center.

Early detection was what first led the women's health unit to travel to local industry and rural clinics.  Women could get a mammogram on their lunchbreak, or before or after work.   Now the number of local factory workers is down--due to the economy-- and the requests for assistance to get a mammogram is up.  Usually a Women's Health Conference like one recently held at The Southwest Church of Christ would net 20 phone calls inquiring about free mammograms.   Mobile mammography nurse educator Marti Whitehead reports 75 - 100.   Couple that with the latest technology brought on board: digital mammography.

"We are the only facility in Northeast Arkansas that offers digital mammography," said Dr. McDaniel.  "We're the only facility in the state of Arkansas that offers it in a mobile setting."

The difference between a digital mammogram and film:

"In the old analog or film setting, basically what you had was a picture of a breast and a magnifying glass," explained Dr. McDaniel.  "That was what you were limited to. If that film was not perfect in every way, you missed things."

Funds from the Susan G. Komen Foundation helped to pay for these technological advances.  Twenty-four thousand dollars went straight into the digital mobile unit; while another eighty-five thousand paid for digital technology at the Imaging Center.  All of this provides for clearer images and a chance to save lives through early detection.

"I can take one image of a breast and, as I laughingly say, can blow it up as big as a billboard," said Dr. McDaniel.  "So we're actually seeing things in mammograms that we have never been able to see."

As for the patient, there's hardly in difference in the procedure.

"The digital for the patient is no different," said Dr. McDaniel.  "She walks in and she sees a mammogram machine. There's compression. There's radiation. It all looks the same to here. The difference is that there is no film."

Instead, an x-ray beam goes through the breast and to an electronic detector--which using computer software--generates images for a radiologist to review.   If you, or someone you know, needs assistance in getting a mammogram, contact Breast Care at 877-670-2273 or Marti Whitehead at 870-336-4807.

The mobile mammography unit typically serves 11 counties in Northeast Arkansas.