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Providence brings revolutionary 3-D mammography to the region

February 13, 2013

Technology increases percentage of cancers detected

Providence St. Mary Medical Center on Feb. 18 will introduce a quantum leap forward in the detection of breast cancer – 3-D mammography.
The technology increases the percentage of breast cancer that can be detected early, at its most treatable and survivable stage.

Providence St. Mary is the first facility in the region to offer this new technology, which gained approval in 2011 from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Studies reviewed by the FDA found that 3-D mammography, also called tomosynthesis, can measurably increase breast cancer detection. It also can decrease the number of women who, after having traditional mammograms, are called back to undergo additional tests to determine whether suspected abnormalities are cancerous.

“Tomosynthesis, or 3-D imaging, represents the single greatest change in mammography since the origin of breast imaging,” said Dr. Bradley Johnson, medical director of the Imaging Department at Providence St. Mary Medical Center. “This methodology is set to replace conventional mammography nationwide, and we are tremendously pleased and excited to be the first center in the Inland Northwest to be able to offer this technology to our community”

Ability to detect more cancers, sooner
Women have a 98 percent survival rate when breast cancer is detected early and is still localized in the breast. But to treat the cancer, it must first be detected.

In conventional mammograms, views of the breasts are limited to a few two-dimensional angles. Cancer can hide from view behind breast structures such as density. In those cases, the cancer has an entire year or more to grow until the woman comes in for her next mammogram. It will continue to grow until it is large enough to be seen behind the obscuring structures. The opportunity to treat it at its earliest stages is missed.

With 3-D mammography, the machine moves around the breast, taking laser-sharp images in thin slices. The radiologist can then view the entire breast in 3-D, moving through each slice to find cancers that may be obscured. The machine also provides 2-D views.

“The patient experience for a 3-D mammogram is almost identical to a standard mammogram, with the differences limited to the advanced capabilities of the equipment,” Dr. Johnson said. “The duration of the exam and amount of compression required are not significantly changed in producing the dramatically more detailed and extensive images.”

Reducing call-backs for additional tests
With conventional mammography, 10 percent of women are called back for additional views or tests because something suspicious is seen. This in part is due to the limitations of conventional mammograms – the radiologist can’t see the abnormality well enough to determine what it is. Up to 80 percent of these call-backs do not result in cancer diagnoses. Even knowing that, the process is still very stressful for women undergoing the additional tests.

The clarity of the 3-D mammography reduces call-backs by as much as half. Radiologists can better see abnormalities and in many cases rule them out without additional testing.

”While increased detection of breast cancers remains a primary strength of tomosynthesis, the reduction in the need for additional ‘callback’ diagnostic exams is also a very desirable component of this technology,” Dr. Johnson said. “Early reports from centers with this equipment show up to a 20 percent increase in breast cancer detection, but also up to a 50 percent reduction in callback studies. We look forward to similar benefits here, especially the elimination of unnecessary repeat examinations.”

Referrals not required for mammography
The National Cancer Institute recommends women ages 40 and older have a mammogram every one to two years. Most insurance plans pay for it, and 3-D mammograms are covered the same as conventional mammography.

Doctor referrals are not required for mammograms. Women can schedule their own screening mammograms, and provide the name of the primary care doctor they want the report sent to. Women do not need to be patients at Providence St. Mary, or use a Providence doctor in order to have a 3-D mammogram at the medical center.

Low income women may qualify for free screening mammograms through the Lifesaver Fund maintained through the Providence St. Mary Foundation.

To schedule a 3-D mammogram or for more information, call 509-522-5850.

Providence St. Mary Medical Center, a 142-bed regional hospital located in Walla Walla, Wash., is the fourth largest employer in Walla Walla County. The Providence Medical Group is the largest group of primary care providers and specialists in the Walla Walla area.

News Release
For immediate release
Contact: Kathleen Obenland
Director of Public Affairs and marketing
Providence St. Mary Medical Center
401 W. Poplar St.
Walla Walla, WA 99362
509-522-5994
www.providence.org/washington
Kathleen.Obenland@providence.org