Nine months ago, Shannon Allen had no idea that she would need the services of St. Joseph East hospital's breast care center — until the newly appointed board member of the St. Joseph London Foundation was urged in July by her gynecologist to get her routine mammogram.
At age 44, she said, she had no family history of breast cancer, but the test found an invasive form of the disease in its earliest stages.
Now, after a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, she credits that screening with saving her life, and she says she wants more women to make mammograms a priority.
St. Joseph East, part of the KentuckyOne Health company, plans to help them, with a $1 million renovation and expansion announced Wednesday.
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The hospital is creating a 2,100-square-foot breast care center focused on women and men who need more advanced screening. Currently, those patients come to the same waiting rooms and exam rooms as those seeking routine mammograms.
The new center — which will be on the first floor of the existing medical office building at 160 North Eagle Creek Drive, next to the current breast care center — will cater to their special needs with what executives called a soothing spa-like atmosphere.
And, most important, there will be new imaging technology, commonly referred to as 3D mammography.
This kind of screening, tomosynthesis, "is an exciting new technology in breast imaging for enhanced detection of early breast cancer," said Dr. Kimberly Stigers, one of the radiologists who will run the center.
The 3D mammography will allow doctors to more easily determine which structures are likely to be cancerous and which are not, and it will make detection simpler, said Dr. Marta Kenney, also a radiologist at the center.
The expansion in the breast care center was financed by $250,000 in private fundraising through the St. Joseph Hospital Foundation; the rest came from capital spending by KentuckyOne Health. Work on the center is scheduled to be completed by the end of June.
"It is no secret that invasive breast cancer, when detected early, can be treated," said Di Boyer, director of major gifts for the hospital foundation. "Yet this year, 500 Kentucky women will lose their battle with this disease, some because they have never had a mammogram. We must offer our patients great screening options and make it easy and accessible, and that is what we are doing today."
Stigers said the center will probably be able to screen 20 to 40 women a day; the entire breast care center typically conducts about 13,000 screenings annually.
"This is really an exciting day," said Eric Gilliam, president of St. Joseph East. "The breast center here has been such a phenomenal service here at this campus. It has provided so much benefit to so many women through the years. And the exciting thing is through this expansion, we'll be able to serve even more women in our community."
Allen said she never thought mammograms were important. "I didn't feel like it affected me," she said. "But it basically saved my life. ... Had I waited until this year, it could have spread to my bones. It's not only saved my life, I found it so early I didn't have to do chemo or radiation."