Lincoln Hospital wins national recognition

Breast Imaging Center fights cancer with new equipment

By Shuli Levine

When Jane Smith made an appointment for a mammogram, she expected to wait for hours in a crowded, down-at-heel room. So she was as surprised as she was pleased to spend a short wait in a handsome room designed with patients’ comfort in mind.

An oasis of warm colors and hushed tones, the Breast Imaging Center at Lincoln Hospital is decorated with framed pictures hanging on peach walls. Amber couches fill the small waiting areas.

“This is beautiful,” said Smith, who asked that her real name not be published to protect her privacy. “The whole atmosphere is nice. It makes you feel good. You know, because sometimes you go places, and things are all dilapidated. I just like the cheerfulness. And the equipment, it seemed like it was updated. I was pretty much pleased.”

Smith, who works at Lincoln, was made aware of the imaging center last year when the hospital posted breast awareness signs offering free mammograms.

“I said, ‘Well I’m here. I might as well take advantage of it,’” she shrugged. For her previous exam at another center, she said, “It was a long waiting period, and that’s what turned me off.

Behind Lincoln’s waiting area are small, clean, exam rooms where patients are treated in privacy. Last spring the hospital spent $600,000 updating the Breast Imaging Center, which now offers the newest technologies in breast cancer treatment and detection and provides a one-stop place where a patient can have a mammogram, ultra-sound and biopsies done without having to leave the protective environment.

As a result, the center was recently designated a Breast Imaging Center of Excellence by the American College of Radiology. It is the only hospital in New York City’s Health and Hospital Corporation to receive the accreditation.

In order for an imaging center even to apply, it has to have proved its commitment to quality control over a period of years. It takes another year to gain the designation.

Lincoln’s imaging center works in conjunction with its Breast Center, to bring together all of a patient’s doctors (surgeon, radiation oncologist, medical oncologist, and radiologist) to discuss treatment, and present patients with all their options.

The Breast Center, which received accreditation last year from the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers of the American College of Surgeons, is one of seven accredited centers in New York State, and the only accredited center in New York City. The distinction means that patients will get the same kind of care as “in any fancy schmancy breast oncology center,” said Dr. Sydney McCalla, attending surgeon and director of the Lincoln Breast Center.

In the past year, the Breast Imaging Center for Excellence has performed 9,544 mammograms and close to 3,000 ultrasounds.
“Our goal is to detect cancer in the early stages, when it’s easy to treat, and when the outcome and prognosis are much better,” said Dr. Olga Bauman-Fishkin, chief of the mammography division. A mammogram, she explained, can detect cancer two to three years before it can be felt, so the hospital employs an aggressive patient outreach program to encourage women to be screened.

In 2001, when the Breast Center first opened, it detected 30 cancers. In the first 10 months of 2010, it found 64 cancers. Bauman-Fishkin attributes the increase in large part to the Breast Imaging Center and its updated equipment.

Anita Birmingham, 51, who is currently battling breast cancer, spoke openly about how early detection had saved her. She came to Lincoln for a mammogram after feeling pain in her breast and was diagnosed with breast cancer on July 1, 2010. Twenty-eight days later, she had a mastectomy and is now undergoing chemotherapy.

“I thank God for Lincoln,” she said tearfully, “because I could have been somewhere else and it really, really diagnosed me real quick and I’m thankful for that. Hopefully this will help someone else and let them know: ‘Don’t be afraid. The earlier you do it, it can save your life.’”

Birmingham stressed the care and compassion that she has received. “I’ve been to a lot of hospitals where they don’t treat you as well as they treat me here,” she said. “Most hospitals you go in, they give you a diagnosis and that’s it.” At Lincoln, “They make you feel like you’re a person and not just a name on a folder.”