DeKALB – Nitzet Velez remarked how far medicine has come since the days of exposing cancer patients directly to radiation and expressed excitement now that women in DeKalb County will get local access to the latest in modern breast health care.
Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital’s $4.2 million Breast Health Center opens Tuesday, and will offer women a more comprehensive and well-rounded breast health experience.
“The goal is to make them get through it and beyond it,” Velez said said, standing next to a new stereotactic biopsy machine, where patients can lay flat on a table and undergo a mammography (a type of low dose X-ray) to guide a biopsy. Breast tissue is removed and taken to a laboratory to test for cancer. Velez has been a general surgeon specializing in breast health at Kish for 16 years.
Kim Aldis, director of oncology services, said the breast health center will be a natural complement to the services offered through the Cancer Center.
DeKalb County has a 65% breast cancer screening rate compared with the 78% state average, according to hospital staff, and with breast cancer being the second-leading cause of death in women, routine screenings and early detection are vital for survival rates.
“From screening mammograms, to having her needing additional views or a biopsy, the goal is to do that all here,” Aldis said. “It’s that really nice continuum of navigating that patient through, and hopefully these services increase our screening rates.”
The 6,000-square-foot facility was completed after four months of construction, and is located inside the hospital near the main entrance. The facility will help women in the county have access to more breast health technology in a more comfortable and private atmosphere, staff said.
Among the technology in the center are 3D mammogram machines and tools for whole breast ultrasound imaging, stereotactic biopsies and measuring bone density. All of those tools help provide doctors with a clearer scan of the breast, which can help with early detection and subsequent treatment options or for preventative measures.
“There is already enough hurdles for women to show up for their screening mammogram,” Velez said. “So anything at all that we can do to make that experience less frightening is a good thing. It’s just an effort to try to get everything streamlined, make it a little less scary, a little more convenient, a little more complete.”
In August, Gov. JB Pritzker visited the site of the breast health center and signed a new law that will allow diagnostic mammograms to be covered by insurance, which lawmakers hope will encourage more women to get regular screenings without fear of not being able to afford follow-up tests.
Amy Bushue, a mammotech with the hospital for 16 years, said she remembers when screenings required film and a dark room.
“It’s amazing the differences,” Bushue said, who will be operating the new 3D mammography machine with a new curved paddle for more comfort during the process. “The machine makes a sweeping image and the radiologist can scroll through those cuts.”
From annual mammogram screenings to biopsies and treatment plans through the Cancer Center if need be, Velez said health center staff will provide a hand for patients to hold as they navigate the treatment process.
“I think our job as caretakers is just really to be able to give those women all of the information they really need so that they’re not making the choice on fear alone,” Velez said. “Because fear’s a bad way to make decisions when it comes to anything, especially about surgery.”