| 03.18.2018

A game changer in breast cancer detection– Gritman Medical Center gets new technology that will increase cancer detection rates


The Gritman Women’s Imaging Center is switching from conventional mammography technology to tomosynthesis — a 3D imaging technology that allows radiologists to more accurately detect breast cancer.

Scott Nelson, director of imaging at Gritman, called tomosynthesis a “quantum leap in imaging,” on a level that hadn’t been seen in imaging for quite some time.

Dr. Christin Reisenauer, director of Gritman’s Women’s Imaging Center, said 3D mammography is the greatest advancement in mammography technology in the past 20 years.

“The reason we haven’t had 3D mammography before is because computing power and detectors haven’t been sensitive enough and robust enough to allow this,” Reisenauer said. “What the radiologist now has is a 3D representation of the breast, and so instead of just having those two images that we look at, (we have) a computer reconstruction into many images, and we’re able to actually page through the breast.”

Reisenauer said conventional mammography is problematic because it misses about 20 percent of breast cancer.

She said this is because conventional two-dimensional mammography only shows two views of the breast, leaving a lot of overlapping tissues that are difficult for radiologists to interpret.

Reisenauer said this is especially problematic for younger women, who have denser breast tissue that can be more likely to obscure cancer lesions, increasing the likelihood of a patient being called back in for a second mammogram.

“The other thing that 3D mammography allows us to do is decrease those callback rates significantly,” she said. “It gives the radiologist more confidence in their interpretation of the mammogram.”

Reisenauer said many larger institutions across the country using tomosynthesis have found a 27 percent overall increase in cancer detection and a 40 percent increase in detection of invasive cancer, compared to conventional mammography.

Nelson said tomosynthesis is more efficient, even though it takes about twice as long for radiologists to read the images produced by the machine.

He said the new technology will take less of a patient’s time by eliminating the need to call them back in for a second mammogram or an unnecessary biopsy, because radiologists can see everything that was obscured in conventional mammography.

“Basically, instead of doing just a 2D image in mammography, we are now able to do a 3D image, which actually layers the breast tissue out so that you can see a lot more of the anatomy, and you can see if there’s perhaps cancers that are hiding behind other tissue,” Nelson said. “It layers it out so that radiologists can really see that, and it increases that specificity and sensitivity by about 40 percent.”

Reisenauer said she is proud of Gritman for being a leader in the implementation of this technology.

The only other place in Idaho that currently offers this technology is McCall, and the nearest location to the Palouse is Tri-Cities, Washington.

Nelson said he thinks tomosynthesis will eventually become a standard in mammography, as it is implemented in more and more hospitals.

“I believe this will become standard in care, because when you have a technology that’s that much better, you can’t help but go in that direction and implement it,” Nelson said.

Nelson said the American Cancer Society recommends women who are older than 40 to get annual mammograms if they are in good enough health to do so.

He said he agrees with this recommendation, because waiting more than a year leaves more time for something to go undetected. The benefits of regular mammograms outweigh the risks of being exposed to minimal amounts of radiation, Nelson said.

Nelson said the center will have an open house event 5:30-7:30 p.m. May 19 that will be an opportunity for the community to ask questions of some of the radiologists and technologists who are familiar with the technology.

Daphne Jackson can be reached at arg-news@uidaho.edu

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