Patricia L. Dawson, M.D., PhD

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What test is best for breast screening?

August 15, 2012

I often get asked why can’t a woman just get a breast MRI rather than a mammogram. The imaging tests that we do for breast cancer screening and evaluation of abnormalities have different strengths and weaknesses.

Mammograms are very useful as a screening tool. They can be done quickly and read efficiently by the breast radiologist. They have minimal radiation exposure. They can be done by a mobile coach in locations that are more convenient to patients. They are excellent for identifying abnormal calcium deposits within the breast tissue and for seeing disrupted tissue and masses. They may be less effective in women who have dense breast tissue but the digital techniques have he...

Getting a mammogram

July 16, 2012

Frequently women will ask me: Where should I get my mammograms? There are several things to think about.

First, you want to go to a Center that is accredited by the American College of Radiology. This means that they have high quality images and well-trained radiologists. It is preferable to have a digital mammogram but if that technology is not available, then film mammograms are better than not having one done. While it is not clear that digital mammograms improve survival, they do allow the radiologist to examine the images more clearly and to use computer assisted diagnostic tools.

The radiologists’ experience is also important. Dedicated breast centers usually have radiologists who are specialized in breast imaging. These sub-specialized radiologists are very experienced in using mammograms, ultrasound, and breast MRI to diagnose breast disorders and are less likely to miss abnormalities.

Convenience is also a consideration. You want to make it ea...

The True Family Women's Cancer Center Opening

June 04, 2012

We at the Swedish Cancer Institute are excited about the new True Family Women’s Cancer Center, located in downtown Seattle, which opens on June 5. Recognizing that women may have unique needs when faced with a cancer diagnosis, the True Center brings together multiple specialists who treat women with all types of cancer and provide care that is compassionate, caring, and highly coordinated. It is funded entirely by philanthropy.

The True Center is located on floors 5 and 6 of the Arnold Pavilion at 1221 Madison. Floor 5 will house medical oncology teams, our psychiatrist, social workers, genetic counselors, naturopathic physicians, nutritionists, The Rivkin Ovarian Cancer Center Clinic offices, a patient education satellite, our American Cancer Society Patient Navigator, and a financial counselor. The 6th floor will be the home to our multidisciplinary clinic, which will house our breast surgery teams, cancer rehabilitation physician, physical ther...

Why standardization?

May 14, 2012

You may be hearing more talk about standardization in medicine these days. What does it mean and why is it important to everyone? People who are not in the medical field may worry that standardization will result in their care being less personalized and more “cookie-cutter.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

For several years, medical providers, healthcare administrators, healthcare quality experts and others have been talking about improving medical care and health outcomes through increased use of data and standardization. The term “evidence based medicine” is used to indicate that medical recommendations and decisions are based, to the extent possible, on data – rather than just doing things because they have always been done that way.

Data can be obtained through clinical trials (where patients are randomized to various treatments and then the outcomes are compared), observation (where the outcomes of various ...

A good time to get perspective�

May 04, 2012

A little perspective as we head into the weekend:

Life does not get easier as we get older; we take on more responsibility at work and at home. In this economy, it often feels that we are living on the edge and all it would take is one thing to tip the scales and throw our life off-balance. Taking time to slow life down can sometimes help. Here are some things that may help:

6th Annual Cerebrovascular Symposium and Spencer Lecture

May 03, 2012


Course brochure

Each year, thought leaders from around the world join their colleagues from Swedish Neuroscience Institute (SNI) as they present the latest advances in the management of cerebrovascular disease and stroke. This two-day course is held May 17-18 at the Swedish Cherry Hill campus in Seattle, WA, and includes faculty from Swedish Neuroscience Institute, Providence as well as guest speakers from around the country. 

In addition, each year we honor the memory of Dr. Merrill P. Spencer, M.D. through an annual lecture. Dr. Spencer enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a physician, professor, researcher and innovator. He ea...

What you need to know about breast screening

April 11, 2012

In 2009, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) created significant controversy and confusion for both providers and patients when they revised their breast screening guidelines. (The USPSTF is promoted as an unbiased group that reviews relevant studies and makes guideline recommendations. Specialists may be asked to review the guidelines but no breast specialists (surgeons or radiologists) were on the actual review panel.)

The guideline development process aims to weigh the potential benefit of services against the potential harm, and make recommendations accordingly. For breast screening, the harms considered were “psychological harms,” imaging tests and biopsies in women who were ultimately found not to have cancer, inconvenience, and the possibility of treating a cancer that might not have been life threatening. Radiation exposure was considered to be a minor concern. Regarding benefits – the only benefit considered was reduc...

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