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Thu, Jul 13, 2017 at 05:00 AM

3D mammograms are available at Marshall North and South

Faye Marion is a firm believer in getting an annual mammogram

But like many women with dense breast tissue, she often got a frightening call asking her to return for a second test. With the latest technology in mammography now being used exclusively at Marshall Medical Centers, Marion now can be confident that her test was accurate without a call back. 

“The pictures are much more clear,” says the retired teacher from Hulaco. “I didn’t have to have a sonogram. When they call you back, it’s scary. With 3D, it’s more clear, more accurate and you don’t have to be called back.”

All women in Marshall County now have access to the technology called the single greatest break-through in breast cancer detection in the last 30 years. 

Known as 3D Mammography, the technology takes multiple images or X-rays of breast tissue to recreate a 3D picture of the breast. It’s different from traditional mammography which obtains just a single image. Due to overlapping layers of tissue inside breasts, those 2D images could produce unclear results causing false alarms or allowing cancer to be missed altogether.

3D images give doctors a clearer image of breast masses, making it easier to detect cancer and boosting the accuracy of mammography screening.

3D mammogram machines were installed earlier this year in both Marshall Medical North and South. Made by Hologic, the Genius 3D Mammography is the only 3D exam approved by the FDA as clinically superior to traditional mammography.

The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reported that Hologic's 3D technology detects 41 percent more invasive breast cancers. False positives decreased by 40 percent using 3D technology, which reduces the anxiety caused when women are called to repeat their test due to a false alarm.    

Women with dense breast tissue in particular benefit from 3D mammography because it provides a clearer picture, making it easier for doctors to catch breast cancer early. It also makes the size of the cancer easier to see than it could be on a regular mammogram.

High breast density is common, according to the Susan G. Komen website, which estimates between 40 and 50 percent of American women aged 40 to 74 have dense breasts. Breast density varies greatly by age and weight. Dense breasts are more common in both young and thin women. 

Besides age and weight, other factors related to high breast density include: 

  • genetics and family history 
  • menopausal hormone therapy use 
  • having fewer children 

In breast cancer screening on women with dense breasts, some tumors may not show up well on mammograms. Dense breast tissue and tumors can both appear as white. This can make it hard to distinguish one from the other. The denser the breast, the harder it can be to find tumors. That’s why women like Marion often had to face a second test - such as a breast ultrasound - which are better able than traditional mammograms to distinguish tumors from normal tissue and may catch cancers missed with mammography. 

Exams done using the new equipment produce a series of detailed images allowing a better evaluation of breasts layer by layer. The radiologist views these images sequentially. A mass will stand out in the scan rather than being camouflaged by dense breast tissue as sometimes occurs with traditional 2D mammography.

Studies show that the exam has greater accuracy than 2D mammography for women across a variety of ages and breast densities. Greater accuracy means better breast cancer detection and a reduced chance of being called back for additional screenings.

A "callback" happens when a mammogram picks up something suspicious and the doctor wants to do additional imaging or a biopsy. For most women, it turns out to be nothing. According to the American Cancer Society, fewer than 10 percent of women called back for more testing were diagnosed with breast cancer. Researchers found a 15 percent dip in the number of women who had to return for more tests because of a suspicious mammogram finding after undergoing 3D mammography.

Women notice little difference between 3D mammography and traditional screenings. During the 3D part of the exam, an x-ray arm sweeps over the breast, taking multiple images in seconds. It takes about four seconds to obtain an image, just a little bit longer than a digital mammogram. 3D mammography produces more images, so it does take radiologists a little longer to read than a single digital mammography image, but the original procedure is much the same. 

A 3D mammogram will expose women to a slightly larger amount of radiation than a standard mammogram. However, this dose is below the FDA-regulated limit for mammography and no additional risk from an amount of radiation this small has been shown. The FDA studied the radiation issue before approving screening and diagnostic 3D mammography, concluding that the benefits outweigh any potential risk.

Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women, exceeded only by lung cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Detecting cancer at an earlier stage will influence a woman’s chance of survival. Talk to your healthcare provider about a 3D mammogram. When it is time for your regular annual screening, your doctor’s office can schedule it for you.