High-tech and dialed in

When it comes to radiology, Chico has it all

X-RAY VISION Dr. Jim Schlund of North Valley MRI explains the advantages of new radiology technology.

X-RAY VISION Dr. Jim Schlund of North Valley MRI explains the advantages of new radiology technology.

Photo By Tom Angel

New x-ray technologies make life easier for local doctors and their patientsOne of the great advancements of modern medicine has been its enhanced ability to look inside patients’ bodies to see what’s going on there. The x-ray is still around, but it’s augmented by a host of new and powerful radiological tools that enable doctors to see far more than they could before.

Fortunately, Chico is home to a well-structured and integrated system that’s more than capable of caring for patients in need of an MRI, CT scan, CAD mammography, ultrasound or bone density study. The system, a partnership between Enloe Medical Center and North State Radiology, the group that operates virtually all of the radiology services in Chico, provides state-of-the-art technologies and procedures.

Dr. Jim Schlund is a radiologist at North Valley MRI and CT Center and works in the Breast Care Center located at North State Imaging. Mammography has become much less invasive than it was even a few years ago, he says. “A polyp the size of a green pea can be found routinely.”

And, if a polyp is found, a stereotactic biopsy or an ultrasound biopsy can be used as alternatives to an open-surgical biopsy, which removes an entire breast lump for microscopic analysis if something is found in the diagnosis stage.

However, the very latest in breast imaging technology is breast MRI, which is now available at North Valley MRI & CT. Unlike mammography, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) uses a super-conductive magnet, radio waves and a computer that make it possible to see soft tissue inside the body. MRI is so precise that the image taken is often the same as looking directly at the tissue (except in black and white).

Though it’s clearly superior to mammography, this new use of MRI is now done only on breast cancer patients to track their progress in recovery, due to reimbursement issues with insurance companies. Dr. Greg Lauten, director of North Valley MRI & CT, thinks that will change, however. “Eventually, we think insurance companies will see the benefit of cost savings with early detection, and breast MRI may come to replace mammography in the future.”

The future will always include the need for biopsy to rule out what many women fear most: a battle with breast cancer. Dr. Schlund credits much of the success the Chico medical community enjoys to yet another integrated element: The Biopsy Center is located just 300 feet from the Pathology Center. “Results can be walked over from the Biopsy Center to the pathologist,” Schlund explained.

The proximity eliminates the need for shipping results to different areas. “There are no loops, no couriers, nothing is lost,” Schlund explained. To a woman awaiting the outcome, this small link can make a huge difference.

North State Radiology and Enloe have support centers and offices located in the various buildings around the hospital and throughout the community that make it possible to check up on each other’s progress and monitor problems that may arise.

These support centers offer medical procedures that are far less intrusive and time consuming than procedures used in the very recent past.

It used to be, for example, that a catheter angiography to determine whether vessels around the heart were diseased, narrowed, enlarged or blocked altogether would be the normal procedure for diagnosis. The process entailed passing the catheter and a balloon through an artery leading to the area of interest as well as injecting a contrast material to highlight the vessels on an x-ray sheet.

Today the catheter angiographic studies have been replaced by less-invasive methods such as computed tomography (CT), angiography and magnetic resonance (MR) angiography, none of which requires a catheter to be inserted.

Still, catheter angiography remains widely used in patients who may undergo surgery, angioplasty or stent placement, as well as, in many cases, to detect narrowing or blockage of a blood vessel or determine the site of internal bleeding.

The less-invasive procedures are especially beneficial to patients with impaired kidney function, particularly those who also have diabetes.

Many people living in and around Butte County may believe that first-class medical treatment means traveling to a big city. Not so, says Dr. Schlund, who hopes the community becomes more aware of the exceptional equipment and support staff operating here and now in the local medical community.