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Longstreet Clinic gathers breast cancer services into 1 site

POSTED: December 22, 2008 5:00 a.m.
SARA GUEVARA /The Times

Rena Stanfill, left, a mammography and stereotactic breast biopsy technician, and Natalie Bagwell, center, a nurse practitioner and certified clinic breast examiner, are members of the staff at the new Breast Center at the Longstreet Clinic. Dr. Priscilla Strom is a surgeon and the medical director at the Breast Center.

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When a woman has breast cancer, or if she even thinks she might have it, she feels emotionally vulnerable.

Health care providers have recognized this, and they’re taking steps to make the experience less traumatic.

That’s why the Longstreet Clinic recently opened the Breast Center, a facility that gathers all of the clinic’s breast health services in one location for better continuity of care.

"We’re real excited about it," said Mimi Collins, Longstreet’s chief executive officer. "We think it will be much more efficient for the patients."

She acknowledges that there’s also an element of competition to it.

"We know that even some of our own patients were going to Atlanta for their breast health services," she said.

Collins said the Longstreet staff wanted to create something that wasn’t previously available in Gainesville.

"The (obstetrician/gynecologists), internists, surgeons and oncologists all talked about what we wanted our breast center to be," she said. "Our physicians felt strongly that when women come in for their screenings, they should have a clinical breast exam, not just a mammogram."

So Longstreet hired nurse practitioner Natalie Bagwell and sent her to a training program to become a certified clinical breast examiner. Patients can be seen by Bagwell without needing a doctor’s referral.

"Women can now call the Breast Center even if they don’t have a regular doctor," Bagwell said. "They’ll see me for a clinical breast exam, and then I can order their mammogram and we can do it right there."

If something unusual is detected, the woman can undergo further testing almost immediately. The Breast Center has two digital mammography rooms, two ultrasound rooms and equipment for performing ultrasound-guided and stereotactic biopsies.

During a biopsy, the doctor removes a small piece of tissue from the breast and sends it to a lab to test for cancer.

"(The Breast Center) is just across the hall from our surgery office," said Dr. Priscilla Strom, who devotes about 90 percent of her practice to breast disease. "I can see the patient the same day, and sometimes even do the biopsy then."

Typically when a woman discovers a lump in her breast, she calls her gynecologist or primary care doctor and tries to get an appointment, which might take a week or more. After seeing the doctor, she would make an appointment to have a mammogram done at an imaging center. Then she may have to make yet another appointment, with a surgeon, for further evaluation.

"We hope to be able to shorten the time from when an abnormality is detected until they can see the surgeon, potentially even getting them in the same day," said Bagwell.

If the patient hasn’t found a lump and is just getting her routine screening mammogram, Bagwell still has much to offer.

"I’m going to be doing a lot of patient education, especially in teaching women how to perform breast self-exams," she said.

Bagwell also asks about family history. If the patient has close relatives who have had breast or ovarian cancer, Bagwell can draw a blood sample for genetic testing to see if the patient is at risk for an inherited form of the disease.

When a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, Bagwell can help her through every step of the process.

"We want women to feel comfortable, and to feel like they can discuss anything with us," she said.

To help patients feel less self-conscious, the Breast Cancer maintains a women-only environment.

"Men can come with their spouse and sit in the front waiting room, but they’re not allowed in the back," said Bagwell.

Anyone who would like to tour the facility will have an opportunity to do so on Friday, when an open house is scheduled from noon to 2 p.m.

The Breast Center is located on the Longstreet Clinic’s third floor, between the imaging center and the oncology department.



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