Digital mammography machine keeps Mercy ahead of the game

Wednesday, October 1, 2014
Gail Pierce, lead mammography technologist at Mercy Hospital in Cassville, uses the machine at the hospital on Main Street. The digital mammography machine serves about 1,000 patients per year, usually peaking in October with about 120-130 in the month. Kyle Troutman

Cassville hospital serves about 1,000 patients per year with state-of-the art machine

Gail Pierce, lead mammography technologist at Mercy Hospital in Cassville, has been in radiology since 1981, and she said nothing is more helpful when it comes to mammograms than the hospital's digital mammography machine.

At Mercy since 2011, Pierce said the machine serves about 70-80 patients per month, peaking during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October at 120-130. She said it's seen about 1,000 patients per year since it came to Cassville.

"We were really tickled to get it, and

it's really good for younger patients who have denser breast tissue because it provides a much clearer picture," she said. "Without the digital aspect, some results looked like just a bunch of white space, and that made it tough to see any abnormalities without the digital detail."

Pierce said the machine draws patients from many areas, including Cassville, Anderson, Pineville, Wheaton and Aurora, and the hospital does the best it can to get appointments made and completed quickly.

"We try to keep our schedule in shape so that when it's time for a patient's annual mammogram, we want to schedule it within the next day or two after they call," she said. "That's the advantage to being at a smaller facility, because it would take forever in Springfield, and we have the same machine they have."

Graduating from X-ray school in 1980 and beginning mammography work in 1981, Pierce has worked at Mercy since 1988 and said there have been a lot of changes in the breast cancer field since then.

"When I first started, we were using a regular X-ray machine with another device attached to the table they were on," she said. "We did a regular X-ray screening instead of a mammogram screening, and the dose was very big. It would not be acceptable to give that high a dose of radiation today."

Pierce said Cassville got its first analog mammography machine in 1991, and the digital machine it got two decades later makes a world of difference.

While the technology has improved immensely, Pierce said some things never change, like the emotion involved with screenings and diagnoses.

"Every woman, when she comes in to get a mammogram, is apprehensive about the results," she said. "Deep down, there's always a little doubt and a hope that we don't find anything.

"It's pretty emotional, and if there is a positive result, that really escalates the emotion. We have patients that are stressed out big time and are just holding it together, because they know this could change their whole life in a minute or two."

Pierce said results from mammograms take only days, as the hospital reads mammograms on site on Tuesdays and Fridays. Once a reading is complete, a letter is sent to the patient.

Pierce said although the process may cause some anxiety, patients are happy with the machine and how easy and comfortable it is to use.

"We use a secret weapon -- a mammogram pad," she said. "It's like a memory foam pad that gives them a softer plate to screen on instead of just a hard edge. And, some patients' health is already fragile, and if we can make it a little more tolerable and make the exam easier, it will help them be more comfortable and, ultimately, give us a better exam."

Pierce said the field of mammography is hoping to get younger, and the job offers more than just a paycheck.

"In this field, we have to encourage young professionals to come in and work, and it's not just a job, but it's really important to us personally," she said.

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