Beaufort Memorial’s Living Well Blog brings health and wellness to Lowcountry living.

Advanced Mammography Technology Offers Improved Detection and Accuracy

Posted by Women's Health Team on Feb 15, 2016 1:56:42 PM

An advanced imaging technology is available at Beaufort Memorial Hospital’s Women’s Imaging Center. Digital breast tomosynthesis, the latest breakthrough in mammography, is a three-dimensional X-ray that provides a clearer, more accurate view of the breast. This improves breast cancer detection and reduces the number of false positives (and the anxiety that comes with them).


“It’s such a useful tool,” says BMH radiologist Phillip Blalock, MD. “It affords us a better look at the breast tissue, helping us find smaller cancers at earlier stages when they’re most treatable.”              

Tomosynthesis is performed during a traditional screening mammogram using the same equipment. During the 3-D portion of the exam, the arm of the machine makes a quick arc over the breast, capturing images that are assembled into a composite picture.              

With 3-D imaging, radiologists are able to examine the breast tissue layer by layer. Fine details are clearly visible, allowing doctors to more effectively pinpoint the size, shape and location of any abnormalities. Tomosynthesis is especially beneficial for women with dense breast tissue, which can mask cancers or lead to false positives.            

“After reviewing the technology, we saw the huge potential it has and were excited we may be able to reduce unneeded procedures,” said Daniel Mock, Beaufort Memorial’s senior director of imaging services. “For example, a skin fold that looks suspicious on traditional mammography can easily be seen on the 3-D tomography image, saving a woman from further diagnostic testing.”              

While two-dimensional mammograms are still considered the gold standard for early detection, clinical trials are beginning to demonstrate the benefits of tomosynthesis. According to a study published last spring in Lancet Oncology, 50 percent more cancers are found using 3-D X-rays combined with conventional 2-D mammography than with the traditional test alone.          

A 2013 Yale University study also found tomosynthesis reduces overall recall rates in breast cancer screening by 30 percent, with even greater reductions for women with dense breasts and those younger than 50.      

Although the radiation dose of the 2-D and 3-D combination is about double that of a conventional screening, it is still below the FDA-regulated limit. For some women, the radiation dose may not necessarily increase with a 3-D mammogram because the exam may help them avoid the radiation from additional diagnostic scans.

 Almost all women can benefit from having tomosynthesis, but it’s especially helpful for patients who have dense breast tissue, are considered at high risk for breast cancer, need a diagnostic screening, or are having their first mammogram.            

Curious about the cost? There is a $50 additional charge for tomosynthesis, but some insurance plans now cover the charge, including Medicare, Medicaid and Cigna. If you’re interested in adding tomosynthesis to your next mammogram, contact your insurance provider in advance. Find out if it covers some or all of the cost of the screening and its interpretation by a radiologist, which is submitted and billed separately.

At the Beaufort Memorial Women’s Imaging Center, a dedicated radiologist is on site to interpret both 3-D and 2-D mammograms, providing patients with their results before they leave the center. Same-day mammography results are also available at Bluffton Medical Services.

A Breast Imaging Center of Excellence, the Women’s Imaging Center also offers digital diagnostic mammograms, ultrasounds, bone density scans and stereotactic breast biopsy in a spa-like setting designed with the healing arts in mind. To make an appointment for tomosynthesis or a traditional screening mammogram, call (843) 522-5015. 

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