TWIN FALLS — About 9,500 women come to St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center for breast cancer screenings each year. But at St. Luke’s Jerome, that number is only 400 to 500 women.
Idaho has among the lowest rates in the nation for breast cancer screening in women older than 40, said Dawn Soto, executive director of St. Luke’s Magic Valley Health Foundation. And past studies have shown that south-central Idaho has a higher death rate from breast cancer than the state’s rate.
So the foundation’s latest campaign to enhance mammography services at St. Luke’s is about awareness as much as anything.
“We need women to understand that this is important,” Soto said.
The foundation started a campaign this year to raise $1 million to purchase two tomosynthesis mammography machines for St. Luke’s Magic Valley and to upgrade the machines in Jerome.
Tomosynthesis mammography, also known as 3-D mammography, takes more than the standard digital X-rays from the top and side. It arches over the breast to take multiple images and create a 3-D model based on the data.
This data can later be analyzed slice by slice, said Ron Jones, director of diagnostic imaging for St. Luke’s Magic Valley and Jerome.
“It increases our ability to look at breast tissue at a more granular level and see things we haven’t seen before,” he said.
It’s important because it should significantly decrease the call-back rate for women with dense breast tissue — about 40 percent of the female population.
The mammography machines in Twin Falls now often come back inconclusive for those patients, Jones said, so the patients are called back for another screening.
“That’s alarming and it’s stressful,” he said.
Unfortunately, the 3-D mammography machines will not decrease the pain associated with compressing the breasts during a screening. They will also take another minute or so to finish, but they won’t increase pain, Jones said.
“We really need to offer this to our community,” he said.
The “tomo” campaign started in May and already has raised more than $100,000 from Tough Enough to Wear Pink, St. Luke’s Magic Valley Auxiliary and the foundation’s annual golf tournament. The foundation’s board members have also committed to donate $50,000, and the entire radiology staff has committed to donate, Soto said.
When the two years of fundraising is complete, about 85 percent of the money will come from donors and grants, Soto said. About 25 percent will come from the annual golf tournament and Epicurean Evening events.
This year’s Epicurean Evening takes place at 6 p.m. Saturday at Canyon Crest Event Center, 330 Canyon Crest Drive.
The evening includes gourmet food and wine from area restaurants, a no-host bar, and live and silent auctions. Dinner is served at 6:30 p.m. Attendees are encouraged to wear pink or something along the lines of the “Old Hollywood” theme.
Tickets cost $125 each; $1,500 for a reserved table for 10; or $3,000 for a sponsored table of 10. They may be purchased by calling 208-814-0070 or emailing email@example.com.
Soto hopes the event will equally serve to raise awareness about breast cancer screenings. An estimated 127,000 Idaho women older than 40 have not had a mammogram in four years.
The American Cancer Society recommends women begin having yearly mammograms at age 45. They may change to every other year beginning at age 55.
But Jones said St. Luke’s doctors and their peers still recommend yearly mammograms. Insurance companies will cover regular screenings, but not all cover the 3-D mammography portion. He estimates the out-of-patient cost would be about $50, but the foundation has funds available to those who are under-insured or uninsured.
“Our mission is to provide better health and care to our community,” Soto said. “Especially the rural communities.”