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New machines help women’s health

The Monty Python comedy group made fun of a hospital using expensive diagnostic equipment called “the machine that goes bing!” just to impress English medical hierarchy.

Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital has just received two diagnostic tools that were not acquired in deference to British humor or medical politics. According to Diagnostic Imaging Supervisor Danny Buttacavoli, a bone densitometer and a computer that checks breast cancer scans were obtained in the interest of women’s health.

With the bone densitometer, “We’re looking for risk factors for osteoporosis,” Buttacavoli said. “There is no better machine for (measuring) bone density.”



Losing bone density is what causes osteoporosis, where bones get so weak they can easily break. According to Buttacavoli, elderly women are most prone to the problem, and the machine can find it to help stop or retard it.

Dr. Mark Richey of the Grass Valley Radiology Medical Group said the densitometer finds the osteoporosis that often leads to hip fractures.




“A hip fracture is a life-threatening thing for the elderly,” Richey said. “They can get laid up in bed and get pneumonia.”

Osteoporosis often strikes women who are post-menopausal, Richey said.

“Are you familiar with elderly women who are hunched over?,” he asked. “That’s osteoporosis.”

To check for it with the densitometer, a patient merely lies down on the machine, which scans the body, Buttacavoli said. “Early detection is crucial to stop the bone loss,” he said. “It takes less than a few minutes.”

The new bone densitometer cost $44,000 and was donated by the hospital’s auxiliary, Buttacavoli said. It has already erased an 11-week backlog for the bone scans to the point where patients can now get them within a few days notice.

Patients of any kind can get a mammogram through the hospital whether they can afford it or not, both Buttacavoli and Richey said. Programs are in place for those who can’t afford them and a new computer has made the screening for breast cancer more accurate.

The computer diagnosis, called an ImageChecker, did not cost the hospital anything, Richey said. The firm that supplied the computer simply gets a cut from the fees it generates.

After a radiologist views a mammogram for possible cancer, the image is read a second time by the computer.

“It calls everything to attention,” Buttacavoli said. “To date, it has not picked up any more or new cancers that the radiologists have found, but it’s another backup in case the human eye fails to pick up an abnormality.”

The computer “looks for tissue density changes,” Buttacavoli said. “We were being asked for it by our patients.”

That came as a result of patients turning to the Internet for information and answers about their maladies, Buttacavoli said.

Both Buttacavoli and Richey said women should get a mammogram after they turn 35 and then get one every year when they reach 40.

“It saves lives,” Richey said. “What we hate to see is women who come in with a mass the size of a golf ball because we could have caught that with a screening mammography.”


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