In a darkened room with charcoal black walls, Dr. Arnold Honick and other radiologists examine the white "densities" of the female breast using the latest imaging technologies, such as 3-D tomosynthesis.

The lights in the room are usually turned off for a clearer interpretation of the images on several large flat-screen monitors. A low-tech, wall-mounted X-ray light box, an anachronism amid digital wonders, casts just enough light for radiologists to move about safely.

This is one of three "reading rooms" at Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation's new Breast Care Center, which opened in late February at the ever-expanding Sutter Health Plaza on the north end of Airway Drive in Santa Rosa. It is where Sutter specialists, using the latest imaging technology, begin waging their medical battle against breast cancer and other breast health issues.

The center's 3-D mammography unit, which Sutter says is the only one of its kind in Sonoma County, is just one of several new imaging devices at the Breast Care Center. It allows radiologists to get a fuller spatial view of the internal geography of the breast, and its value cannot be understated, said Honick, the medical director of the Breast Care Center.

The unit decreases the "recall rate," where patients are called back for more imaging to get a better view of suspected trouble spots, he said.

"With this, I can feel confident that it's nothing," Honick said.

The Breast Care Center was formerly housed at the Sutter Women's Health Resource Center on Steele Lane in Santa Rosa, which used to be a 24 Hour Fitness facility. Sutter is considering administrative uses for the building, such as accounting or information technology.

The breast care facility at Sutter Health Plaza is adjacent to Sutter's new Advanced Imaging Center, a combined 10,700-square-foot facility that cost $10 million to build.

The two centers share some imaging equipment, such as a new wide-bore MRI scanner that is similar to Memorial Hospital's $3 million wide-bore scanner, though with a few more bells and whistles. Sutter's new MRI room is equipped with a "caring suite" that uses personalized lighting, music and video designed to help patients feel more comfortable.

While the two centers share some equipment, the Breast Care Center was specially designed to maximize patient privacy. It has a separate waiting room, lounge and a private dressing room.

Other features in the center include:

Three ultrasound suites for breast imaging and intervention procedures such as biopsies.

A 128-slice CT scanner with low radiation technology that delivers 30 to 50 percent less radiation than older scanners.

A mammography unit used for standard mammographies and for performing biopsies with the patient lying down.

The center is a testament to the importance of imaging technology and its efficient use.

"We're so quick here that the referring physician can get the report before the patient returns to their office for the follow-up," said Bob White, director of ancillary services for Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation.

The center's consultation room is equipped with a large computer monitor that allows patients and medical staff to instantly see test results.

"It demystifies all the verbiage we use," Honick said. "The patient gets a picture in their mind of what we're talking about."

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.co