Mercy hopes to offer chemo by spring

Wednesday, October 5, 2016
Mammography Technologist Carol Coleman assists a patient during a mammogram procedure at Mercy Hospital Cassville. According to Gail Pierce, mammography technologist at the facility, it's crucial women get annual mammograms because it can save their lives. To schedule a mammogram, people may call 417-847-6051. Julia Kilmer/

Hospital has digital screening, aftercare

The field of medicine, including technology and methods, is always changing, offering new treatments -- and new hope -- for patients dealing with illnesses like breast cancer.

To assist with that goal, Mercy Cassville attempts to stay on the cutting edge of technology so that it can offer Barry County residents the latest treatments and services to make treatment and recovery that much easier.

Currently, those treatments and services include digital screening mammograms and post-mastectomy care, and doctors hope by next spring chemotherapy treatments will be available as well.

According to Gail Pierce, mammography and registered vascular technologist, the promotion of screening mammograms has made a significant impact on early detection of breast cancer.

"When they decided to promote the mammogram screenings, the detection rate went up by leaps and bounds," Pierce said. "Before, women didn't get one until they could feel a lump, or had a symptom."

Because breast cancer tissue is dense and can be hard to see in women who have dense breast tissue, which is especially true of younger women, advancements in medical technology are key to early diagnosis -- but that can't occur unless women come in for a mammogram. Therefore, Pierce said it's crucial for women to put themselves first by scheduling an annual mammogram, because it can save their lives.

"Women don't like to spend their money on the doctor for themselves, but they'll do it for their families," she said. "Hopefully, that will change, because there are programs and services that help with the expense."

Mercy Cassville also offers diagnostic services if an area of concern is found during a screening mammogram, but if further evaluation is recommended by the radiologist, such as a biopsy, patients are referred to Mercy Joplin or Springfield.

Last year, Mercy Joplin began offering the latest in digital imaging, 3D Tomosynthesis mammography, for women with dense breast tissue and those at high risk for the disease. The technology examines images of the breast in slices or sections to allow doctors to view tissue more closely and spot suspicious areas more efficiently.

Mercy Joplin location also offers chemotherapy treatments, and Sisters Health Boutique, which offers post-mastectomy products, skin treatments to help the dry, itchy skin side effects of chemo, reconstruction products, and wigs and scarves. The American Cancer Society also provides resources and free wigs for breast cancer patients.

"We don't offer 3D technology here yet," Pierce said. "But, it's the newest technology people will probably do eventually. We take the images as technologists and put all the images in front of the radiologist and let him make the call to do a diagnostic study."

"The newest improvements are 3D tomosynthesis," said Dr. Jeffrey Shore, M.D. of Radiology, Mercy Cassville. "That technology shows a lot of promise and imaging for ladies with dense breast tissue. You can see through those areas better with that technology."

In addition to digital mammograms, Mercy Cassville also offers local post-mastectomy care, including services to address the side effects of cancer treatment.

"It's a program to help any cancer survivor, [not just of breast cancer], get through the residual effects of treatment they face after diagnosis, such as pain, fatigue or mobility, to assist them through their survivorship," said Mercy Cassville Physical Therapist Lisa Mitchell, who is certified in the Survivorship Training and Rehabilitation (STAR) Program. "It's an evidenced-based program that ensures that cancer survivors have access to high quality rehab services."

"It allows people to get post-oncology care near their homes verses traveling to Springfield," said Chris Hoag, therapy services and cardiac rehab manager at Mercy Cassville.

Mitchell also treats lymphedema.

"Lymphedema is a condition where your lymph system doesn't flow through your body properly, and patients can develop significant swelling in their body, so it has to be therapeutically drained," Hoag said.

Mercy Cassville is also much closer to bringing an oncologist in to offer chemotherapy services locally. The hospital initially planned to move forward with that goal last year, but an oncologist was not available.

"We have now located an oncologist, Dr. David W. Croy, M.D., from Mercy Joplin clinic of oncology and hematology, and are getting estimates on costs to purchase the necessary equipment and modifications to put in a chemotherapy prep room," said Doug Stroemel, Mercy Cassville administrator.

Stroemel said an existing room will be renovated, but it is an expensive process.

"The room will have to have special ventilation, so it's going to take significant remodeling of existing space to provide the facilities and treatment necessary," he said.

Currently, patients must travel to Joplin, Springfield or Rogers, Ark., for chemotherapy treatments. Stroemel said administration is hoping to make treatments available by next year.

"The best case scenario would be by spring," he said. "It will be a wonderful program for our patients to have locally who have to drive so far and when they're dealing with something so difficult in their lives."

Based on the advancements she sees in medical care, Pierce offered optimism for women dealing with breast cancer.

"When someone has breast cancer, it changes their whole world, and a lot of women will not get a mammogram in first place because of the fear," she said. "Or, if they are called back in for a follow up finding, you can't get them to return because they think, 'What if it's cancer?'

"The fear is, they can't work or take care of their families, but that's not the case. Most of them do work; they just incorporate it into something they have to do. It helps to work in the medical field because you know how good the advances and treatments are, and know women can have a positive finding and still go on. You can get a cure most of the time with breast cancer. The sooner you find something, the better your chances. Medicine has really come a long way in treating breast cancer."

To schedule a mammogram, people may call 417-847-6051. To inquire about post-mastectomy and cancer care, people may call 417-847-6085.

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