3D screening mammograms saves lives

Published 6:32 pm Monday, October 10, 2022

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I list breast cancer statistics, risk factors, and prevention recommendations every year. And while we can see declines in cancer stats over time, the year-to-year numbers don’t change that much. So, this year, I want to do something different and focus on breast cancer screening. 


Screenings and follow-up appointments aren’t a lot of fun, and if you’re a cancer survivor, these appointments can also be stressful. Add in something called the COVID-19 pandemic, and a worrisome situation brought an unexpected side effect; women put off annual screening appointments to stay away from potentially infected people. And that choice may have increased your risk.

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All cancer screenings, including mammograms, have taken a nosedive in the US since COVID-19. Although you may have delayed or canceled your screening, cancer has no pause button.


Worldwide, breast cancer continues to be the most common cancer in women. In America, breast cancer is the leading cause of premature death for women and ranks second as the cause of all cancer deaths.


So, with this article, it’s time to make a new to-do list—at the top of the list is a breast cancer screening. We know that early detection reduces breast cancer morbidity and mortality.


What if we could see lesions more clearly, find breast cancer earlier, and reduce unnecessary biopsies?


In 2021, St. Luke’s came online with the world-class Hologic Selenia Dimensions, a best-in-class 3D mammography platform, the only FDA-approved mammogram. A 3D mammogram combines multiple breast X-rays to create a three-dimensional breast image. We use this technology to look for breast cancer in people with no symptoms and investigate the causes of breast issues like pain, a mass, or nipple discharge.


Our new platform can take an image of the breasts in much greater detail, making it easier to see unexpected growths. As a result, 3D mammograms find up to sixty-five percent more invasive breast cancers, reduce false positives by about forty percent, and callback rates by more than fifty percent. In addition, during a 3D mammogram, your breasts will be compressed like in a 2D mammogram, and there isn’t any more discomfort than you would experience from the traditional test.


Our Hologic system creates both 3D and standard 2D mammogram images when doing breast cancer screenings. We’ve learned that combining the two increases cancer detection sensitivity while reducing the need for additional imaging. The 3D mammogram takes several images moving in a small arc around the breast. Once the images are assembled, our radiologist looks through the breast tissue one layer at a time. With this higher level of detail, the radiologist can find cancer less than three millimeters in size. Most of these cancers cannot be seen in 2D. This technology has been a godsend to the women of Polk County.


The American Society of Breast Surgeons recommends that all women have a screening mammogram beginning at age forty. And for those with a higher risk of developing breast cancer, annual screenings should start at age thirty-five. With screening at a younger age, we’ve seen measurable reductions in breast cancer deaths across this age group. The implications of these numbers support breast cancer screening for women 70 years and older in good health. 


What are the Costs?


Health insurance usually provides partial or full coverage for screening or diagnostic 3D mammograms. Check your insurance provider’s terms and conditions to find their coverage level. The Ann Jacob Toms Fund at the Polk County Community Foundation has made it possible for St. Luke’s Hospital to offer free 3D annual mammograms for those in Polk County without insurance. To be eligible, you must:


  • be uninsured
  • be at least forty years old
  • have no current breast issues
  • be a Polk County, NC resident
  • not have had a screening mammogram within the last twelve months


To learn more about 3D screening mammograms at St. Luke’s, call (828) 894-0990 or visit StLukesNC.org/radiology and StLukesNC.org/cancer.


If you have a healthcare topic of interest or would like to learn more about St. Luke’s Hospital, send me a note at Michelle.Fortune@slhnc.org. Also, please follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or visit our website at StLukesNC.org.