Performing over 100 mammograms thus far is a significant achievement for Ballinger Memorial Hospital District. The hospital got their new high-tech mammography machine, a Senographe Pristina, installed and running towards the end of 2019. In just 3 short months, the machine has done its job and found breast cancer in a handful of patients.

Sommer McCullough is the Director of Radiology at the hospital, “We have people who come in who haven’t had a mammogram in over 10 years. If breast cancer is found early, it can be cured. Early detection is the cure.”

According to the 2019 County Health Rankings, only 30% of women in the 65-74 age group receive mammograms. That is the key age group for breast cancer. McCullough says that the Senographe mammography machine gives a 3-D image of the tissue. If a patient has had a mammogram at another facility, BMHD gets a copy of that mammogram to compare to the mammography images that they take at BMHD. According to

BMHD CEO Rhett Fricke, the hospital contracts with a radiography service so that the radiologists who are on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week review the mammograms immediately.

McCullough said that they radiologists can review the images while the patient is still in the room, “We can talk to the radiologist on the phone and he or she can tell us if there is something we should be concerned about. In some cases they’ll speak directly to the patient to ask them about their history or talk to them about something that they see on the mammogram.”

McCullough says that most of the positive feedback that they receive from patients concerns the amount of time saved by having their mammogram done in Ballinger, “It many cases, some of the patients are older women and require another family member to transport them to San Angelo or Abilene for their annual mammogram.” A trip to San Angelo is 35-45 minutes, add 30-45 minutes in the waiting room at the medical facility and another 30 minutes in radiology and 45 minutes back to Ballinger and it’s easy to burn 3 hours out of your day. McCullough says that BMHD is a much quicker process, “You come in and register and we bring you back here. We do the mammogram and in some cases we do the bone density scan. All in all, it takes about 30 minutes from the time you come in until you leave. I think that we have had people come in here who might not otherwise have had a mammogram. It’s imperative that people with a family history of breast cancer get an annual mammogram.”

According to McCullough, the 60-65 year age group is the fastest growing age group for development of breast cancer, “We want to stress the importance of getting a mammogram performed regularly. To this end, the hospital has a program in our electronic medical system where we send out reminder letters to people who are coming due for the annual mammogram.”

McCullough says that the process for the mammogram begins with the patients themselves, “It starts with self-exams and knowing their body, knowing if they feel any changes. Then they go to their provider and then the patient will come here.” McCullough says that the bone density scan is quick, “It takes about 8 minutes. Due to Medicare regulations, a patient can only get them done every 2 years, unless they have an issue.”

The hospital’s Senographe Pristina mammography machine isn’t just some machine standing in an x-ray room. The hospital built an entire mammography suite for the machine. While most hospitals can be cold and clinical, BMHD has made the patient’s comfort a priority. McCullough says that they’ve approached the patient’s comfort and privacy with focus on the patient, “The patient controls the compression pressure of the machine and we’ve found that most patients will apply more pressure than the radiologist would have. There are 2 video screens with pleasing images for the patient to watch and there is a machine that fills the air with pleasant scents. The door to get to the suite has a key code so you aren’t just sitting out there waiting for us to call you in. You have a full suite to relax in. People don’t just walk through this area. You will just have the radiologist and the patient in the room. We are very concerned with a patient’s privacy.”

Encouraging people to get mammograms is a priority when you consider that 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer. McCullough say that it’s not just women that should be concerned, “Men develop breast cancer as well, especially if they have a family history of it.” According to cancer.net, almost 2,700 men in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year.

Every Thursday is “Diagnostic Day” at BMHD. On that day they will do sonograms on breasts. The radiologist will look at the sonogram and tell them hospital if he or she notices something concerning. If something amiss is found the sonogram is usually followed up with a diagnostic mammogram.

While the 65-74 age group is the fastest growing age group for breast cancer, McCullough says that anyone with a family history of breast cancer should let their provider know and come in for a mammogram, “Annual screenings should begin at 40 years of age. Yearly mammograms are imperative.”

If you have any questions, you can contact the Ballinger Memorial Hospital District. They are located at 608 Avenue B in Ballinger and their phone number is (325) 365-2531.