Today, women have more breast cancer detection opportunities than ever before. Many women now understand the importance of yearly mammogram screenings, or at least know they should be getting screened, and have a general understanding of breast cancer and breast exams. However, in the 1990s, this was not the case — in Iredell County at least.
While diagnostic mammograms, breast x-rays used after the patient presents some signs of breast cancer, were commonplace in Iredell County healthcare, screening mammograms, those that are routinely administered to detect breast cancer in patients with no apparent symptoms, were not offered.
In 1992, Iredell Health System saw a community need that had to be filled — a lack of breast cancer education and screening opportunities for the numerous women throughout the county.
Thirty years ago this month, Iredell Health System opened The Women’s Breast Health Center at Crossroads Shopping Center to provide self-request walk-in mammography and breast health education services at below cost.
“When we initially opened, we did breast exams and breast cancer education. If a patient wanted to get their mammogram done, they could do that there too,” said Patty Campbell, who has worked at the center as a mammography technologist since it first opened.
After a few years, the center outgrew its small space in the shopping center. Recognizing the need to expand, Iredell Health System purchased the Iredell County Health Department Building on Hartness Road, right beside Iredell Memorial Hospital, in 1997. After a complete renovation, the Women’s Breast Health Center was moved to that location.
In addition to the change of location, new diagnostic equipment was purchased for the center, including bone density tests. Stereotactic breast biopsy, a less invasive way of removing tissue for examination, was also added to the services of the center. In a short while, the number of patients made it necessary to begin requiring appointments for all of the center’s services instead of walk-in visits.
After a few years at the new location, the center’s name was shortened to the Women’s Health Center — the name it has today.
According to Meredith Ballard, mammography supervisor, in the three decades that the Women’s Health Center has operated, mammography techniques have seen several changes and advancements, from analog film to digital to 3D screenings.
Though there have been technological advancements, what has not changed is the level of care the center provides.
“We are all very caring and compassionate toward our patients — they come first, and that has not changed. Making them feel comfortable, special, and appreciated is our top priority,” said Kim Kilpatrick, mammography technologist at the Women’s Health Center.
“We have great teamwork here. Everyone is willing to pitch in, help out, and do whatever they can to provide the best care for our patients,” added Ballard.
Schedule your Mammogram!
The Women’s Health Center hopes its 30th Anniversary will serve as a reminder for women to schedule their yearly mammograms.
Since its opening in 1992, the center has performed nearly 227,000 mammograms. Currently, the center sees around 20-30 patients per day, Monday through Saturday.
Mammograms are a woman’s best chance at detecting breast cancer early, when it’s often easier to treat. In fact, when breast cancer is detected before it spreads, the average 5-year survival rate is 99%.
According to Dr. Rocco Tritico, a radiologist who has worked with the Women’s Health Center since it first opened, a woman should schedule her first mammogram between ages 30 to 40 and continue annually.
Receiving your mammogram every year is crucial so the radiologist can determine if there are any changes in the breast from year-to-year.
“The most important mammogram is the one you had before the mammogram you’re having that day. Everybody’s breasts are different, and sometimes it is an architectural change, not a mass,” said Tritico.
The center offers 3D mammography, or breast tomosynthesis, which may allow clearer views of breast tissue. In this type of mammogram, numerous x-ray images are taken and put together to create a 3D picture of the breast.
As part of its initiative to care for the entire community, Iredell Health System has a Women’s Health Fund through the Iredell Health Foundation. The Women’s Health Fund provides support to qualifying women who cannot meet the financial obligation for health and preventive services, like mammograms.
“For those who feel they are unable to afford to have their mammogram, please reach out to us. We welcome any phone calls and can answer questions you may have,” said Kilpatrick.
The Women’s Health Center provides self-request mammograms. To schedule your appointment, please call the center at 704-878-4551.
Pictured, from left to right: Patty Campbell, Meredith Ballard, Kim Kilpatrick