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The Salinas Valley Health Nancy Ausonio Breast Health Center: Providing Top-Level Care

The Salinas Valley Health Nancy Ausonio Breast Health Center: Providing Top-Level Care

Media Contact: Karina Rusk

Knowing when it’s safe to get care hasn’t always been easy during the pandemic. Previously, women might not think twice about scheduling a routine health checkup or breast exam, but COVID-19 flipped that attitude on its head.

Fortunately, the Salinas Valley Health Nancy Ausonio Breast Health Center, which recently celebrated its 11th anniversary, has implemented measures to ensure women can safely visit the center anytime for breast imaging procedures. These protocols include:

  • Health screening questions during confirmation calls
  • Complimentary “fresh” procedural masks for all patients
  • Hand-washing stations
  • Waiting rooms with social-distanced spacing
  • Expedited process from arrival to registration
  • Thorough sanitation of all rooms and surfaces

“We've also allowed a bit of additional time in between exams so sanitation measures can be completed,” said Bernadette Lucas-Burch, RN, and the clinical manager of the Salinas Valley Health Nancy Ausonio Breast Health Center.

The spa portion of the center has also remained open, which was an important goal of the center’s staff.

“It’s very important to us that women have that reflective downtime in between registering and going back for their exams. In our center, we think about the whole woman or whole person in our care, and we try to really be sensitive to their fears. Our technologists, our physicians, our nurses, everyone is pretty much tuned in because we want to make sure we're comforting our patients,” continues LucasBurch.

Who Should Get a Mammogram?

The center adheres to guidelines from the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN), as well as the recommendations put forth by the American College of Radiology, which indicate that an annual mammography screening for average risk women should begin at age 40.

“Although there has been some controversy over the years about when to start and how often to perform a screened mammography, we really do recommend yearly mammograms beginning at the age of 40,” explains radiologist and medical director of the center Dr. Amy Lantis Stemerman.

For women who have a genetic predisposition or family history of breast cancer, screening may be recommended at a younger age. The center uses the Tyra-Cusick Risk Stratification Model, which takes into consideration a woman's breast density, her personal history and her family history information.

“We can then come up with a score that will tell us whether or not she should have additional imaging sooner than the age of 40. Again, it goes back to individualizing care and understanding each woman's risk,” adds Lucas-Burch.

3D Technology Improves Outcomes

Most of the exams performed at the center involve tomosynthesis or 3D mammography, which Dr. Stemerman says produces the best images to look at all of the breast tissue, not just a two-dimensional view. These images are acquired in a very similar way to 2D screenings using mild compression on the breast in a specific position. “We obtain a whole dataset of information about the breast tissue, which allows us to see very minor details that can help us find breast cancer in the earliest possible stage.”

In fact, in the first year the Salinas Valley Health Nancy Ausonio Breast Health Center initiated 3D screening, 74% of the breast cancers found were in stage zero or stage one, the stages at which patients have the best chance for lifelong survival.

“Previous to that, about 56% were stage zero to stage one. So, there was a great improvement in the detection of early breast cancer, which is amazing for our patients. That's why we do screening mammography,” says Dr. Stemerman.

Patient & Family Support

Should an individual receive a cancer diagnosis, the next steps are designed to provide the optimal support for the patient and their family members. Breast health and oncology breast cancer nurse navigators serve as liaisons to enhance support, provide education, and arrange patient/doctor coordination to ensure timely, seamless care.

“Whether you're a breast cancer patient or an unaffected patient who may have just learned you're a gene mutation carrier, whatever aspect on that continuum of care from pre-risk, reducing strategies, all the way to a cancer diagnosis, a navigator is at the hub of the team. Cancer itself is such a complex journey. We want to ensure women have that additional support; and not just the women, their families as well. They are there to address fears, distress and anxiety,” said Lucas-Burch.

Don’t Wait. Mammography Screening Saves Lives

Dr. Stemerman and Lucas-Burch both have a staunch message for the Salinas Valley community:

mammography screening saves lives. It is the best way to get the most benefit and decrease the risk of dying from breast cancer. Even during the era of COVID-19, women (and men, who can also develop breast cancer) can rest assured they will be taken care of in the safest way possible.

“You are not alone. Our multidisciplinary team is here for our patients, their family, their children; whomever this impacts. We want to educate them, support them, and help them gain a sense of what they can do to continue living,” shares Lucas-Burch. “Of course, COVID has taken away our ability to give nice big hugs to our patients, which is very difficult. But just listening, connecting, ensuring they know we are genuinely here sometimes that's all they need. Or to give a phone number, a business card for who they can contact. You can show up, we're going to be here. No matter what.”

To make an appointment, call the Salinas Valley Health Nancy Ausonio Breast Health Center at 831-759-3091.

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