The fundraising arm of Mercy Medical Center Mt. Shasta is currently in the process of raising money to purchase a digital machine.

The difference is clear. Looking at two mammogram images of the same breast side by side, the contrast between a digital image and an analog one is startling.

While the analog film-type image is serviceable, the digital version gives better visibility of the breast and better detection of pre-cancerous conditions, explained Dr. Peter Halt, medical director of radiology at Mercy Medical Center Mt. Shasta.

Mercy’s current mammography machine is 14 years old, and though it’s still acceptable by federal regulations, studies suggest that digital mammography better detects calcifications and pre-cancerous lesions, particularly in dense breast tissue that’s characteristic of women in their 40s and 50s, said Halt.

The fundraising arm of Mercy is currently in the process of raising money to purchase a digital machine, said Alisa Johnson, Mercy North’s Siskiyou County development officer.

While a brand-new  film-type mammography machine can be purchased for only $80,000, a digital model is approximately $350,000. Mercy North hopes to raise $300,000 of that.

They’re about halfway to their goal. So far, about $140,000 has been raised, Johnson said, including $76,000 from Mercy Mt. Shasta employees (much of that through regular paycheck deductions), $10,000 from the Mercy Mt. Shasta Auxiliary, $25,000 from the Emmerson Endowment, $9,000 from the hospital’s medical staff, $10,000 from Cross Petroleum and $2,700 from Ray’s.

Mercy performs approximately 180 mammograms a month, said Johnson.

“One in 10 of those women will develop breast cancer,” Halt said. “It’s our job to find it before it goes too far.”

Johnson said Mercy hopes to purchase the machine and have it up and running before 2012.

The advantages
Though digital mammography still uses compression to create images, there are several advantages when compared to traditional technology, including:

• Electronic images appear within a matter of seconds onto a high-resolution monitor. Radiologists can review the images immediately, adjust the brightness, contrast and zoom in for close-ups of specific areas of interest.
• Digital images can be shared electronically, making long-distance consultations possible online and exam times shorter.
• Anxious patients can get their test results more quickly, giving them peace of mind. False positives are also decreased, and the number of follow-up procedures needed may be fewer, reducing the  patient’s exposure to radiation.
• The system can easily be configured for tomosynthesis, the latest technology in digital mammography, which creates three-dimensional pictures of the breast using x-rays.

Why raise funds?
Though some wonder why the hospital itself can’t purchase the machine, Mercy Mt. Shasta’s administrative director of outpatient and support services Greg Lippert explained it wouldn’t make business sense, particularly because insurance reimbursement for the service is minimal and an analog machine can be purchased for a quarter of the price of a digital one.

“We don’t make money on mammograms,” Halt pointed out. “It’s more of a community service, it’s very important for cancer prevention.”

“We are very proud of the level of quality we have been able to provide our community,” said Mercy Mt. Shasta president Ken Platou. “We are at the top of the charts of most every indicator available in overall patient quality and outcomes measurements. We see this technology as a welcome addition to that ongoing goal and capability.”

How to donate
All those who contribute $6,000 or more toward the purchase of the digital mammography machine will be recognized with their name on a recognition piece at the Imaging Center, Johnson said.

If you’d like to donate, contact Johnson at (530) 926-9318.