3D mammography tests offer better detection - KCTV5

KCTV5 Special Report: New 3D mammography tests offer better detection

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Mammograms are already one of the most important tools in the fight against breast cancer and about 40 million are performed in the United States each year. But a revolutionary technology has taken the tests to a whole new dimension.

One in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime. St. Luke's East Hospital in Lee's Summit was the first in the state of Missouri and the Kansas City metro to invest in the latest detection tool - tomosynthesis or 3D mammography.

For the patient, a 3D test differs little from the tradition 2D experience. A technologist compresses each breast, and then takes two low-dose images.

The main difference in the new test is the X-ray arm swinging around the patient to capture images from multiple angles. The extra angles take another four seconds to shoot, but churn out a total of 200 images, compared to the standard four.

The pictures are then used to produce a series of 1–millimeter-thick slices that can offer a 3D view of the breast.

It's been only a few months since the 3D mammography machine was installed at St. Luke's East but, already, breast radiologist Dr. Ruby Meierotto is quite impressed.

"It's been a wonderful asset," Meierotto said.

The new technology lets medical professionals look through specific tissues around other structures, making it more difficult for cancer to hide.

"Studies show we are catching 40 percent more invasive breast cancers with this new technology," Meierotto said. "I absolutely love it."

The doctor showed an image to KCTV5's Carolyn Long of a patient who, without the 3D scan, would have been sent home without an early diagnosis.

"This is a case, honestly I think, 99.9 percent of radiologists would call this completely benign and would not notice the cancer which unfortunately, or fortunately, you see on the 3D image," Meierotto said.

On the flip side, what looks like a tumor in one layer may reveal itself as harmless in another dimension.

"We're decreasing our false positive rates," Meierotto said. "So (we're) calling back fewer women for unnecessary tests and biopsies and eliminating that anxiety that goes with getting called back."

There are a couple of downsides to the new technology. There is a little bit more radiation, mainly because the tomosynthesis machine offers the 3D images as well as the 2D scans in one image.

At this point, insurance companies only cover the standard 2D scan, which means an extra $45 out-of-pocket fee. It's something Meierotto hopes will not deter women from getting the potentially lifesaving test.

Much like when the medical community and patients saw mammograms transition from analog to digital scans, the doctor considers 3D images as the next major change for breast cancer diagnosis.

Right  now the 3D test is only available at three locations: St. Luke's East, St. Luke's on the Country Club Plaza and the University of Kansas Hospital. There are plans to add it to the other St. Luke's locations within the next few months.

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