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Mammography in 3-D offered at Memorial

Memorial Hospital's logo.
Memorial Hospital's logo.

Memorial Hospital in Belleville is now offering three-dimensional views of mammography results, which should cut back on the number of biopsies for noncancerous lumps and, also, locate cancerous spots sooner, doctors said.

The hospital’s Breast Health Center began offering the new screening last week and is the first to offer the 3-D results in the metro-east. The 3-D mammography, or breast tomosynthesis, allows radiologists to identify and characterize individual breast structures without the confusion of overlapping tissue.

Its sharper images will save women from having unnecessary biopsies and help find cancerous masses when they are smaller, said Dr. Jim Clanahan, the medical director of the Breast Health Center.

“It gives us more tools to work with in terms of cancer,” explained Dr. Matthew Donaldson, a radiologist at the Breast Health Center.

He explained by showing the 3-D scan of a patient who had a small, oval-shaped cyst in her breast. “The margins are a lot more visible” than in a traditional two-dimensional scan, he said.

“It provides better details than a standard mammogram,” he said.

The screening is especially helpful when looking at dense breast tissue, Donaldson said. “You can really tell if it’s a mass or just overlapping tissue.”

The 3-D version takes only seconds longer, possibly about a minute or two, than the traditional mammogram, the doctors said.

“Patients won’t notice anything different,” Clanahan said.

During the tomosynthesis exam, multiple, low-dose images of the breast are acquired at different angles. These images are then used to produce a series of on-millimeter thick slices that can be viewed as a 3-D construction of the breast.

It collects more images, so Donaldson’s job as a radiologist takes longer. “It takes about twice as long to read it,” he said.

Although that time investment is worth it, he said, because it will cut back on the number of patient callbacks for additional mammograms.

That time increase in the reading won’t affect the patients, either, Donaldson said. All scans are read within 24 hours, except when there are special circumstances.

The new procedure doubles the amount of radiation a patient is exposed to during the mammogram, which remains a low dose and below federally-recommended dose for a mammogram, Donaldson and Clanahan said.

Clanahan warns that the new scan won’t find everything, but it will find more images than the traditional 2-D mammography results.