Early detection and accurate diagnosis are the keys to beating breast cancer. County women now have an advantage in both of these critical areas thanks to the addition of the latest in breast health technology at The Aroostook Medical Center.
Digital breast tomosynthesis, better known as 3D mammography, has a 41 percent higher detection rate of breast cancer than that of traditional 2D mammography. It also reduces the rate of false positive results.
“These are big numbers,” says Randy Bacon, TAMC director of ancillary and clinical support services. “This means that 3D mammograms increase cancer detection rates substantially, identify those cancers earlier, and in many cases eliminate the need for common follow-up tests. This is quickly becoming the gold standard for breast cancer screening. We are really proud to be the first to offer this service to patients in northern Maine.”
The 3D exam allows doctors to exam the breast tissue layer by layer versus the flat image of the conventional 2D. Fine details are more visible and no longer hidden by the tissue above or below.
“With 3D technology, the patient knows sooner if there is a problem, and just as importantly, sooner if there is no problem,” explains Dr. Alan Mautz, TAMC radiologist. “It is fairly common to get a questionable finding in the flat, 2D mammograms which require further testing. This can cause a lot of anxiety for the patient. With 3D mammograms, there is a proven track record of being significantly better.”
Mautz points out that one area that this is particularly important is for women with dense breast tissue.
“Ironically, these women are at higher risk for breast cancer, but the traditional mammogram is less sensitive on dense breast tissue; 3D takes away this disparity of dense breast being a roadblock for a successful mammogram.”
In addition to those with dense breast tissue, the 3D mammogram is particularly important for those who are having a baseline study (their first mammogram), women who have a documented higher risk of breast cancer and women who have other identified breast abnormalities.
As a physician, Mautz finds this new technology particularly rewarding.
“It’s a nice feeling to close a case out confidently. It feels like I can give better care for patients than I was able to before,” he says.
In addition to the personal wellbeing of earlier detection, fewer false positives and less repeat testing, the Hologic equipment that TAMC is using for its 3D mammograms is unique in that it takes 2D and 3D images at the same time. This means faster exam times and less radiation exposure, according to Bacon. Other 3D machines take two exposures, first a stationary 2D one and then the rotating 3D one.
All women have the option for opting for this higher quality screening, although some insurance companies do limit their coverage, warns Bacon.
“As with any new health care technology or service, insurance coverage is not uniform at this point,” he explains. “The good news is that there has been a recent flurry of policy changes with most of the major insurers allowing for unrestricted payments. However, some plans do place conditions on their coverage or do not cover at all at this time.”
TAMC’s imaging department can work with patients and their primary care providers to determine what level of coverage the patient has. Patients can still opt for the 3D exam if they feel it is the best choice for them and pay the difference in the cost from what the insurer pays for the 2D exam.
In addition to the 3D mammograms, this technology also allows TAMC to offer 3D guided breast biopsies, which can more accurately rule out or confirm cancer in its early stages, without the need for surgery.
Patients begin getting their 3D mammograms at TAMC on September 26th. To register for an exam, women can contact their provider or call TAMC’s imaging services department at 207.768.4216.