Pittsburg radiology tech shares her story: COVID postpones mammogram, breast cancer discovered

Photo by Sutter Health.

It’s time to get the care you’ve been waiting for at Antioch’s Sutter Delta Medical Center

By Monique Binkley Smith, Sutter Health News Bureau Communications Manager

ANTIOCH, CALIF. — California is slowly reopening, but like so many unknowns with COVID-19, it’s unclear how long the return to routine will last.

“A surge in virus spread and infected patients could occur this fall or winter,” says Bill Isenberg, M.D. chief quality and safety officer for Sutter Health. “If this happens, and overlaps with the normal flu season, there could be a significant strain on healthcare services.”

With this in mind, medical experts agree that if you had an appointment postponed or canceled due to COVID-19, now is the time to reschedule it.

Pittsburg resident Norma Lester-Atwood is a mammographer, so she knows the importance of catching breast cancer early. Lester-Atwood is typically right on schedule for her own mammogram, but this spring, shelter-in-place orders delayed her mammogram by two months. As soon as she could, she had the screening procedure and she’s glad she did, because her mammogram and a subsequent biopsy revealed a Stage 0 (non-invasive) tumor in one of her breasts. After a lumpectomy to remove the tumor, Lester-Atwood feels she is well on her way to recovery.

“As a mammographer, I tell my patients that it’s important to come in for a mammogram because I’ve seen patients who developed fast-growing tumors between screenings,” says Lester-Atwood.

As Lester-Atwood’s experience shows, timing is everything when it comes to staying healthy. Getting cancer screenings at the recommended intervals can help spot early signs of tumor growth before it turns into advanced cancer.

“Some women don’t realize that mammograms are needed regardless of your family history, because most women with breast cancer have no family history or other identifiable risk factors,” says Octavio De La Rosa, manager of Medical Imaging Services at Sutter Delta Medical Center in Antioch, part of the Sutter Health not-for-profit integrated network of care.

Screening for colorectal, prostate and lung cancers are also vital. “Simply put, screening saves lives,” says De La Rosa. “Delayed screenings can postpone detection of cancer, which may translate into needing more intensive treatment and a more difficult path for patients.”

Taking Steps to Protect Patients and Staff

Sutter Delta’s imaging center, located inside Sutter Delta Medical Center at 3901 Lone Tree Way, has resumed screening mammogram services and is taking steps to protect patients:

  • Mandatory Masking – Staff, patients and visitors must wear masks at all times.
  • Isolation – Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms is isolated from waiting areas, patient rooms, entrances and spaces the general population uses.
  • Cleaning –Increased the frequency of cleaning and disinfecting in all spaces.
  • Screening – Everyone is screened for symptoms of COVID-19 before entering.

Resources to Help with Health Insurance Disruption

Health insurance coverage can be disrupted by wage or job loss, but there are options available.

In California, the Every Woman Counts program covers mammograms and cervical cancer screening for women with no or limited insurance who meet other eligibility criteria. Call 1-800-511-2300.

Other options include extending employer-based coverage through COBRA and CalCOBRA, shopping for plans and applying for premium assistance through Covered California or Medi-Cal. Charity care and financial assistance may also be available.

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