New 3D tool takes some of the worry out of breast cancer screening

Whether or not you have breast cancer is something to worry about. One out of every eight women in the U.S. will get a breast cancer diagnosis sometime in their lifetime. But the fact that doctors don’t seem to agree on exactly when you should start getting mammograms and how often you should be screened is something you shouldn’t have to worry about at all.

Currently all women in the U.S. can receive an annual mammogram starting at age 40, no matter what their health insurance situation. It’s the law. The sooner you know if you have it, the greater chance you have for a cure. Experts say if cancer is detected before it has spread, the chance for a cure is 100 percent. It doesn’t make sense to wait, even if you have no known risk factors.

Another thing you shouldn’t have to worry about is whether or not the test will be good enough to tell you if there is a problem. “All of the mammograms performed at HCMC are high quality,” says Hennepin radiologist Anthony Severt, MD. “The test is always good enough. We know, of the women who get screened, breast cancer is found in about two out of 1,000. In order to detect breast cancer, the final person reading the scan will set the sensitivity of their screen low enough to recall 70 to 80 per 1,000 women who were scanned. If they are not recalling this many women, we work with them to reset their sensitivity. This closer look at any kind of breast abnormality is what allows us to catch those .02 percent with cancer. Then we can do an immediate ultrasound with these patients and let them know what the results may mean. This is especially common among women with dense breast tissue.”

For most women it turns out to be nothing; according to the American Cancer Society, fewer than 10 percent of women called back for more testing are diagnosed with breast cancer.

Dense breasts have less fatty tissue and more gland tissue that makes and drains milk, and supportive tissue that surrounds the gland. Breast density can be inherited, so if your mother has dense breasts, it’s likely you will, too. This density makes abnormalities harder to see on regular mammograms. Minnesota State Law requires mammography providers to report breast density on all mammograms, and your site will send you a letter if you are found to have dense breasts so you can decide, with your provider, which screenings are right for you.

New 3D Tomosynthesis mammography screening available at Hennepin

A relatively new screening technique which takes a 3D image of the breast provides greater visibility for the radiologist to see breast detail in a way never before possible. The X-ray arm of the mammography machine sweeps in a slight arc over the breast taking images from the side. This produces a 3D rather than a flat image and allows the radiologist to gain a better understanding of your breast structure, significantly improving early breast cancer detection and reducing the need for follow-up imaging by 40 percent.

Tomosynthesis is exciting for breast imagers, Dr. Severt says, “We are detecting breast cancers at a previously undetectable stage. We are seeing them earlier and catching them while they are smaller. Earlier detection means increased survival, and that is the goal of every mammography program. Tomosynthesis means increased certainty that a finding is not worrisome and decreases our callback rate. For the patient, it means increased peace of mind that the initial screening will be all she needs.”

To make an appointment for a mammography screening at Hennepin, call 612-873-6963.

If you have been notified that you have dense breast tissue, you can ask for the 3D tomosynthesis mammogram or ask your provider if it is something you should consider. The 3D test is available at Hennepin’s Whittier and HCMC locations.

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