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CAMP LESTER, Okinawa — The U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa is using a new medical tool that will eliminate the need to send women to an Army hospital in Hawaii for a breast cancer screening procedure, said hospital officials.

The hospital’s new stereo tactic biopsy machine — the only one in a military hospital in the Asian Pacific — was first used Thursday and puts the hospital’s Breast Health Clinic on par with stateside diagnostics for the disease, said Lt. Cmdr. Ronald Tesoriero, a doctor at the clinic.

Lt. Lorrie Meyer, a nurse at the clinic, said early detection greatly increases women’s chances of surviving breast cancer, which the American Cancer Society lists as the second leading cause of cancer death in women.

A mammogram is one of the initial screening tests. Tesoriero and Meyer said doctors here recommend women 40 and older get a mammogram yearly.

The mammogram, which uses X-rays, can detect suspicious cell masses before they are large enough to be felt physically, Tesoriero said.

However, he said, about 80 percent of the suspicious cells that show up on a mammogram are noncancerous — so the next step for a woman whose mammogram shows abnormalities is a biopsy.

Before Thursday, women here who had abnormal mammogram results had two choices for further testing: a surgical biopsy or a stereo tactic biopsy.

In a surgical biopsy, doctors make an incision 1.5 inches or larger into the breast to extract cells for testing, Tesoriero said.

Although the procedure could be done at the Naval Hospital on island, it left a scar and the larger wound meant an increased risk of infection, Tesoriero said.

In a stereo tactic biopsy, a machine uses X-rays to guide a needle into the suspicious mass to extract cells. Tesoriero said the procedure is cosmetically more appealing because it leaves a much smaller wound — only the size of the needle — but before Thursday, the nearest stereo tactic biopsy machine was at Tripler Army Hospital on Oahu, Hawaii.

Typically, he said, women would have to wait four or more weeks for an appointment at the Army hospital and more time there waiting for the results.

Women with children whose husbands were deployed or who were single parents had the additional burden of finding child care while gone.

“All of this while (they) worried that they might have cancer,” Tesoriero said. “And by sending them to Tripler, we were sending them away from their support network of family and friends.”

The stereo tactic biopsy machine here cost about $250,000.

“We will save that in the cost of not having to transport women to Tripler,” Tesoriero added. “And even if we didn’t, I think it would be worth it in terms of the quality of care for our patients.”

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