More metro-east hospitals are offering 3D mammography as an option for all women, but especially women who have a family history of breast cancer or patients with dense breast tissue.
Memorial Hospital in Belleville was the first metro-east hospital to have a 3D unit, which they began using in December of last year. In August, Memorial purchased an additional unit for its location on Seven Hills Road in O’Fallon, according to hospital spokeswoman Blair Sartory.
Other hospitals are following Memorial’s lead and acquiring 3D mammography units for its patients who want the latest technology available. St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Belleville and Greenville Regional Hospital both recently acquired 3D mammography units. St. Elizabeth’s began using its unit this month, and Brian Nall, CEO of Greenville Hospital, said their unit will be operational in mid-January.
Tammy Lett, chief nursing officer at Greenville Regional Hospital, said 3D mammograms “will allow physicians to see a much higher-quality image of breast tissue, reducing blur from any movement and increasing image sharpness.”
Greenville purchased a GE Healthcare SenoClaire 3D mammography machine, which uses a low-dose short x-ray sweep around the positioned breast, with nine exposures.
Jackie Ellis, lead mammographer at St. Elizabeth’s, said patients have been “very excited” about the advanced technology. “They are asking lots of questions, which is good. That’s what we want our ladies to do — to be informed,” she said. “They have been very pleased the compression has actually seemed to be better for them.”
The more they can see, the better it is for women’s health. I don’t see why everyone wouldn’t do it.
Amy Kimball of Smithton, who recently had a 3D mammogram
Amy Kimball of Smithton had a 3D mammogram on Wednesday at St. Elizabeth’s. She said it wasn’t much different than 2D mammograms she had in the past.
“The machine kind of went above you,” she said. “Other than that I didn’t notice that much different. It was not a problem for me at all. It was not uncomfortable for me.”
Kimball said she would “absolutely” do it again. “I think it’s important,” she said. “The more they can see, the better it is for women’s health. I don’t see why everyone wouldn’t do it.”
The experience may be slightly different for some patients, Ellis said, as the patient is asked to stop breathing twice during the procedure to limit movement, she said, and help the picture be more clear.
“The machine actually sweeps around the patient,” Ellis explained. “The machine sweeps around and we’ll have you stop breathing for that; it takes a couple of seconds. It comes back up; we let you breathe. Then you stop one more time for us at the end.”
A 3D mammogram has the ability to detect 40 percent more cancers than 2D mammograms, Ellis said, and reduce false positives up to 40 percent.
“The positive impact of this technology on our patients’ lives was apparent from the first day the new 3D mammography was utilized,” said Dr. Gregory Holdener, vice president of Radiology Consultants of Mid-America, P.C. “The 3D image details offer a clearer overall view of the breast tissue.”
A 3D mammogram allows a radiologist to see masses and distortions associated with cancers more clearly than with a 2D mammogram. Ellis said overlapping breast tissue is “the enemy” when it comes to mammograms.
However, she emphasized 2D mammograms are still sufficient.
“A 2D mammogram is still the standard. It does a great job,” Ellis said. “This is just a little more information for the radiologist as they see the breast at those different angles sometimes they can see into the smaller areas of overlapped or harder to see tissue. This (3D mammograms) helps them with that quite a bit. It does not take away the call back all the way, but it does reduce the need for it.”
A call back — which refers to a radiologist’s need to have more images of a patients’ breasts — can be stressful for women, according to Ellis. “They automatically think ‘I have breast cancer,’” she said. “That stress has actually been shown to almost be as much as a lady who actually has cancer.”
Ellis said helping alleviate some of that stress is “wonderful” for patients, who opt to have a 3D mammogram. The dose of radiation used during a 3D mammogram is slightly higher than that used in a 2D one, she said, but it’s still under the maximum amount allowed by the Food and Drug Administration. However, Ellis said they hope to reduce the amount of radiation exposure in the future.
“Even with that exposure, the benefits out weigh the risks,” she said.
St. Elizabeth’s invested more than $400,000 to purchase the Hologic Selenia Dimensions Genius 3D mammography unit, according to hospital officials. The 3D unit has the ability to do a 2D or 3D mammogram, Ellis said.
Jackie Ellis, lead mammographer at St. Elizabeth’s, said the recommended starting age for mammograms is 35 years old for women with a family history and 40 years old for all other women.
The amount of time for a mammogram is similar between the 2D and 3D. Ellis estimated a 2D takes about 15 minutes where a 3D takes between 10 and 15 minutes depending on the patient.
Every patient that comes in for a mammogram, Ellis said, is given the option for a 2D or 3D one. “We are interviewing patients and talking to them about it,” she said, “because it has an additional charge.”
The FDA approved 3D mammography to be used with standard mammography in 2011, but not all insurance providers cover the procedure. Ellis said Medicare is the only large insurance provider who currently covers 3D mammography.
She advised patients considering 3D mammography to check with their insurance provider regarding coverage. A physician referral is not required, she said.
The new 3D mammography machine will be relocated to St. Elizabeth’s replacement hospital currently under construction in O’Fallon. The new $253 million campus medical campus along Interstate 64 and Green Mount Road is expected to be complete by the end of 2017.