Breast Cancer Awareness: Early detection in 3D

National Breast Cancer Awareness Month is the perfect time to schedule your mammogram – especially if you have delayed your regular screenings in recent years.

“Studies have shown fewer women are getting their mammograms,” said Janet Kramer-Mai, Director of Oncology Support Services. “This simple test can really save a life. It’s important for women to stop putting it off.”

According to the American Cancer Society, other than lifestyle changes, the most important action a woman can take is to follow early detection guidelines. Because 75% of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history of the disease and are not considered high risk, screening is of utmost importance. Early detection will not prevent breast cancer, but it can help find cancers when the likelihood of successful treatment is greatest.

We recommend that women get their initial baseline mammogram at 40 and continue annual screenings each year. If you have elevated risk in your family or would like to receive a screening prior to age 40, review your family history and any other concerns with your primary care physician who can refer you to a breast specialist if needed. Risk factors include age, hereditary breast cancer by inheriting a mutation of a gene, family history of breast cancer, personal history of breast cancer that can lead to recurring cancer, dense breast tissue, benign breast conditions, alcohol use, overweight or obese and hormone therapy. Having risk factors does not mean a woman will get breast cancer and some women who develop breast cancer may not have any apparent risk factors at all.

“That is why it is extremely important for all women to be screened at the appropriate time in their life or by recommendation of their physician,” added Kramer.

When it comes to breast cancer, early detection is key to successful treatment and recovery. So, what if your doctor could detect cancer even sooner?

Our NAPBC-accredited program not only offers the latest in digital mammography, Bone Density Testing, Genetics team, and a Certified Breast Cancer Navigator to counsel and encourage a woman through every phase of diagnosis and treatment – for those that qualify, the center also features the latest in mammography with 3D Tomosynthesis, a new technology providing higher, more accurate detection rates and fewer false alarms for certain cases.

This new form of breast cancer mammography produces clear, highly-focused three-dimensional imaging that makes it easier to pinpoint the size, shape, and location of abnormalities.

How does 3D mammography work?

With traditional mammography, each breast is compressed under a paddle while two X-ray images are taken — one top to bottom and one side to side. Though this method of breast cancer detection has proven effective, it does have limitations including overlapping of breast tissue where smaller tumors may hide and limited vision through dense tissue.

In contrast, the 3D machine makes an arc over the breast while gathering multiple images from multiple angles. Then, tomosynthesis creates the images in slices. These “slices” allow for a clearer image of the overall breast, as opposed to trying to look through a lot of tissue, which can obscure imaging.

Research is proving that this enhanced imaging means easier detection of smaller and earlier-stage cancers. In fact, in the recent STORM Study, 59 cancers were detected using 3-D tomosynthesis versus 39 cancers detected using traditional 2-D mammography — a whopping 25% increase in cancer detection!

Is 3-D tomosynthesis right for you?

3-D tomosynthesis is being proven effective for women of all breast densities — from fatty to extremely dense. However, women with dense tissue may benefit from it most. You may also consider 3-D tomosynthesis if you have any of the following risk factors:

  • A family history of breast cancer
  • A personal history of breast cancer
  • Other factors that may increase your risk for breast cancer

Erlanger offers digital mammography at five imaging centers: Erlanger Baroness (downtown on 3rd Street), Erlanger East (Gunbarrel Road), Erlanger North (Morrison Springs Road) and Erlanger Bledsoe (Wheelertown Avenue), and Erlanger Western Carolina Hospital (Murphy, NC). Digital mammography is very similar to the standard mammography in that it uses x-rays to produce the image. However, the images are stored in the computer for convenient access for the radiologists and physicians. The brightness, contrast and size of the images are then adjusted to see more areas clearly.  The images can also be sent electronically to other locations and specialists. Plus, this new form of imaging does not require a physician referral — anyone interested can request it.

To further aid in early detection, our Baroness and East breast imaging locations now offer a quick risk assessment to help determine if you may be at higher risk for certain types of cancers as a result of hereditary risk factors. You simply complete a brief, online questionnaire when you arrive for your mammogram. And if you’re a resident of Tennessee without insurance, you may be eligible for a free well-woman visit and mammogram screening through the Erlanger Well Woman Early Detection program, in partnership with Tennessee Breast and Cervical Program.

For more information, or to schedule your mammogram, please call 423-778-PINK (7465) or in NC, schedule through your provider.