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According to the American Cancer Society, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, which is the most common form of cancer in women. The good news is that early detection is key in treating breast cancer. Monthly breast self-exams and annual mammograms can help detect breast tumors at their earliest, most treatable stages.

At North Hawaii Community Hospital, we are proud to be involved in the fight against breast cancer by offering upgraded screening and diagnostic mammograms, breast ultrasound and breast MRI, which give us the tools needed to accurately diagnose and treat breast cancer.

Last year our Breast Health Program upgraded from analog technology to a state-of-the-art digital mammography machine called MAMMOMAT Inspiration by Siemens. This new digital mammography machine provides technologists the ability to review breast images in real time to determine image quality, providing more information for diagnosis. In addition, this machine features intelligent breast compression technology, offering patients a more comfortable exam experience with a shorter exam time and one-third less exposure to x-rays.

Screening mammography is our best tool for detecting breast cancer in its earliest stages. Mammography is a screening exam that uses x-rays to provide an image of the breast. These images, called mammograms, are used to find potential signs of breast cancer, such as tumors, small clusters of calcium (microcalcifications) and abnormal changes in skin. It can find cancers at an early stage when they are small and most responsive to treatment. For an accurate exam, the breast must be compressed between two plates to evenly spread out the breast tissue. This is done so abnormalities can be seen and not hidden inside the tissue.

We may not yet know what causes breast cancer, but we do know certain risk factors may put you at a higher risk of developing it. A women’s age, genetic factors, family history, personal health history, and diet all contribute to breast cancer risk. Monthly breast self-exams are recommended so you become familiar with your normal monthly changes in your breast. Some warning signs to be aware of may include:

• A lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm that persists through the menstrual cycle

• A mass or lump, which may feel as small as a pea.

• A change in the size, shape, or contour of the breast.

• A blood-stained or clear fluid discharge from the nipple.

• A change in the look or feel of the skin on the breast or nipple (dimpled, puckered, scaly, or inflamed)

• Redness of the skin on the breast or nipple.

• An area that is distinctly different from any other area on either breast.

• A marble-like hardened area under the skin.

NHCH’s Breast Health Program offers patients more than just upgraded state-of-the-art technology. We offer a patient centered model of care which supports patients throughout the entire mammography process from start to finish. Plus, mammography results are now produced much more quickly, helping to decrease patient anxiety. In addition, should an abnormality be discovered during a patient’s screening mammography, NHCH radiologists are now able to expedite any additional testing and, if necessary, perform a minimally-invasive biopsy to establish a diagnosis close to home. Previously, a patient needing additional testing was referred to Hilo or off island.

With a new Hawaii state law that took effect last July, women are now more in control of their own health. Since July 1 last year, women over the age of 40, for the first time ever, have the right to choose when, where and with whom they’d like to schedule their annual breast-screening exam, without a referral from their primary care physician.

Our upgraded technologies and Hawaii’s new state law are positive developments in the fight against breast cancer. To take advantage of Hawaii’s self-referral process and NHCH’s new digital mammography technology, please call NHCH’s Breast Health Program at 881-4882 to schedule your annual mammogram.

NHCH continues to keep women in our community happy, health and informed with our 13th annual Girls’ Night Out event on Oct. 11 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Kanu o ka ‘Aina New Century Public Charter School in Waimea. The event is free and open to women of all ages. Attendees will be treated to dinner, women’s health and wellness resources, massage, energy work, manicures, hair styling, games, door prizes and more! This year’s theme is “Get Your Pink On.” So dress to impress in your best pink outfit, grab your mom, auntie, daughter, tutu or girl friends and join us for a fun night out to paint the town pink!