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3D mammogram technology means earlier breast cancer detection, fewer callbacks
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A patient undergoes a 3D mammogram exam from women’s imaging coordinator Kourtney Farrow at The Imaging Centers of Northeast Georgia Medical Center. The technology allows for earlier detection of breast cancer. (Photo courtesy of Northeast Georgia Health System)

By Pamela A. Keene

For The Times

Technological advances in mammography mean better news for women getting screened for breast cancer. 

Over the past five years, researchers have developed 3D Automated Breast Ultrasound and 3D mammogram options that can help detect breast cancers earlier, leading to better outcomes for treatment. Both are now available in Northeast Georgia.

“Our 3D Automated Breast Ultrasound, called ABUS, is a new screening technology that allows radiologists much better visibility of dense breast tissue during breast cancer screenings,” said Ashley James, mammography technologist and mammography tracking coordinator of radiology services at The Longstreet Clinic. “We’re one of only 200 clinics in the country to offer the ABUS technology.”

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A patient undergoes an Automated Breast Ultrasound exam at Longstreet Clinic. (Courtesy of Longstreet Clinic)

James said that the 3D ultrasound provides a much more detailed view as a supplement to a traditional 2D mammography.

“It’s especially effective for women who have dense breast tissue, and that’s about 40 percent of all women who are eligible to be screened,” she said. “Plus, it’s non-invasive and gives us more assurance of coverage of the entire breast.”

The Longstreet Clinic added the ABUS technology in April. 

“Physicians are also happy for their patients to have the 3D ultrasound because it doesn’t involve radiation, and there’s a 24 percent better detection rate,” said Nichol Hughes, clinical coordinator. 

“Right now, 35 states are required to report breast density to patients, and Georgia’s not one of those states. Breast density reporting is mandated in 35 states, and we’re hoping it will be soon in Georgia. In the meantime, we at The Longstreet Clinic are providing this voluntarily to patients.”

Dense breast tissue can hinder early detection of smaller breast lesions and cancers, and James explained that dense tissue is something that’s evident through imaging. 

“It’s not something that can be felt, but when breast tissue is more dense, it can mask lesions,” she said. “By using the ABUS, cancers can be detected at an earlier stage, when they are smaller and easier to treat.”

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An Automated Breast Ultrasound image displays breast density, which is key to detecting potential breast cancer. (Courtesy of Longstreet Clinic).

The Imaging Centers of Northeast Georgia Medical Center have added 3D mammography for breast cancer screening in three locations. It was first offered at the Braselton campus in 2015 and was added at the Gainesville and Dawsonville locations in June of this year.

“Traditional mammograms give radiologists a flat, two-dimensional representation of the breast,” said Julie Pardue Presley, MD, of Gainesville Radiology Group and medical director of Women’s Imaging at NGMC. 

“The new technology creates a 3D image using many layers of the breast, so fine details are more visible and no longer hidden by the tissue above or below. The technology means radiologists have to do fewer callbacks for repeat exams because what appeared to be questionable in a traditional image may be very clear in a 3D image.”

Since it became available in Braselton, about 60 percent of the women who have breast screenings there have chosen 3D mammography. It can be specified on the physician’s orders for the screening or a patient can choose the new technology themselves.

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3D mammogram technology allows for earlier detection of breast cancer. (Courtesy of Northeast Georgia Health System)
The scheduling staff at the Imaging Centers of NGMC typically asks patients which method they prefer, 2D or 3D, and many are requesting the newer testing, which is covered by Georgia’s larger insurers and many private payers as well.

“This new 3D screening technology reduces the chance of being called back for a follow-up mammogram by 40 percent,” says Kourtney Farrow, women’s imaging coordinator of Northeast Georgia Health System. “It can certainly reduce the need for call-back mammograms.”

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A patient undergoes a 3D mammogram exam from women’s imaging coordinator Kourtney Farrow at The Imaging Centers of Northeast Georgia Medical Center. The device allows for earlier detection of breast cancer. (Courtesy of Northeast Georgia Health System)

The 3D mammogram process involves scanning the breasts in an arc, capturing 1 mm views that the computer generates into a 3D image of the breast tissue.

“It takes about the same amount of time as a 2D mammogram,” Farrow said. “And many of our patients say they feel less discomfort even though the compression is the same as traditional mammograms.”

Farrow said many patients are already educated about 3D mammograms through the internet and the media.

“When women make their appointment for their routine screenings, they can request the 3D technology, even if their physician hasn’t written an order for it,” she said. “Eventually it will become the standard of care for breast screenings.”

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