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A new dimension
3D mammography aids physicians in breast cancer diagnosis


October 2012

Wisconsin physicians have a new weapon in the battle against breast cancer. In April, ProHealth Care became the first health care system in Wisconsin to offer three-dimensional mammography, which helps detect breast cancer at the earliest stages.

"This is the most significant advancement we have seen in breast imaging," says Dr. Jennifer Bergin, ProHealth Care’s medical director of breast imaging. "There are two main benefits over traditional two-dimensional mammography. It can help us find up to 20 percent more cancers, especially in women with dense breasts. It also helps us distinguish harmless abnormalities from real tumors, leading to fewer callbacks and less inconvenience and cost," she says. Most importantly, it will help find cancer earlier, which means better outcomes and a higher survival rate for patients.

The technology, which was recently approved by the Food & Drug Administration, is called tomosynthesis. It uses specialized computing to convert digital breast images into "slices" to build a 3D graphic image. Now, instead of viewing all the complexities of the breast tissue in a flat image, the doctor can examine the tissue one millimeter at a time. Fine details are more clearly visible, no longer hidden by the tissue above and below.

The 3D technology is especially significant for those with a genetic predisposition for breast cancer, as well as for breast cancer survivors who are at risk for recurrence. Michelle Luckiesh, a 43-year-old breast cancer survivor, recently opted to have her annual mammogram done in 3D at Waukesha Memorial Hospital. "They offered the 3D mammogram to me and I said, ‘Absolutely.’ The procedure doesn’t really take any longer and I think that being able to see the results is very important. It put me a bit more at ease," she says.

To Bergin, probably the biggest benefit is the added assurance 3D mammograms offer in making a diagnosis. "It has already helped us to detect breast cancer in a few women that we might not have seen with the older technology."


This story ran in the October 2012 issue of: