New technology allows better mammograms

Published 10:35 pm Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Two medical centers in Suffolk will soon begin scheduling patients for a new type of mammography that should enhance the ability of doctors to detect cancers, experts say.

Known as 3D mammography or breast tomosynthesis, the new procedure will be offered at the Advanced Imaging Center at BelleHarbour and Sentara Obici Comprehensive Breast Center. The services will be offered starting in December, but scheduling will start Oct. 1.

A study in the June 2013 issue of the American Journal of Roentgenology found the use of the new technology increased cancer detection by 35 percent, increased invasive cancer detection by 53 percent and reduced callbacks — when women had to come back for more tests — by 38 percent.

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“It’s very significant,” said Dr. Stafford Brown, a radiologist at Obici and BelleHarbour. “The key is early detection, and any tool we can get our hands on to detect breast cancer early without increasing risk to the patient is a good thing.”

Conventional mammography creates a two-dimensional image of the breast, much like an X-ray, making it difficult to find small cancers hidden among layers of breast tissue, according to a press release from Sentara. The new technology creates 3D breast reconstructions so radiologists can view the breast in paper-thin layers.

Brown agreed with another doctor’s assessment that the old mammography technology was similar to looking at a deck of cards, while the new technology allows the radiologist to look at each individual card.

“Now we’re getting multiple thin slices of breast tissue and being able to look at it,” he said.

The new technology will be especially useful for women with dense breast tissue, which can hinder the detection of some cancers.

“With dense breasts, we couldn’t really see through the breasts, but now we can do that,” Brown said.

It also will help women with risk factors for the disease, such as a family history.

While Brown said the new technology will not improve uncomfortable procedure, it will allow more images to be taken approximately the same amount of time and reduce the number of times some patients have to go through the procedure.

“With 3D, since we’ll be able to see more, we’ll be able to diagnose more accurately at that particular time,” Brown said.

Patient confidence, however, will definitely improve, he believes.

“They know they’re getting the latest and greatest,” he said. “This is a great advancement. I’m happy Sentara is at the forefront of getting this out to the community in Hampton Roads.”