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Mills-Peninsula Upgrades to 3D Mammography

TomoThanks to generous support from donors, the Mills-Peninsula Women’s Center has replaced all digital mammography units with digital breast tomosynthesis, providing 3D mammography for breast cancer screenings at no extra cost to patients.

“Digital breast tomosynthesis allows cross sectional views of breast tissue that can uncover tumors that would not be visible on standard mammograms,” says  Harriet Borofsky, M.D., medical director of imaging at Mills-Peninsula’s Women’s Center. In fact, a large study from Norway published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology in January 2013, shows that digital breast tomosynthesis improved the overall cancer detection rate by 27 percent and increased the detection of invasive breast cancer by up to 40 percent.

Also important, DBT can show more clearly when overlapping breast tissues are normal, sparing women unnecessary callbacks, along with the stress and anxiety that comes with follow-up tests. Several observational studies in the United States found that 3D mammograms reduced the number of women called back by 30 to 40 percent.

Similar to standard mammograms, the breast is compressed before DBT images are taken. However, the DBT tube sweeps in a 15-degree arc over the breast, taking an array of exposures from different angles. A computer reformats the data and displays the data in 1 millimeter-thin slices, similar to a CT scan. This allows the radiologist to scroll through the images of the breast tissue, like pages in a book.

In April 2013, California enacted a new law that requires doctors to notify women if their breast tissue is dense enough that mammography may not pick up a potential cancer. Now, at the one-year anniversary of the new law, the SF Gate article, A Variety of Approaches When Mammograms Aren’t Enough, includes an interview with Dr. Borofsky on 3D mammography and imaging options for women with dense breasts or for whom additional imaging is necessary.

Harriet Borofsky, M.D.

Harriet Borofsky, M.D.

“The ability to view the breast tissue in tomographic slices is incredible and will significantly increase our confidence and accuracy in interpretation,” says Dr. Borofsky. “It will ultimately lead to an increase in our ability to detect early breast cancer, while decreasing our false positives.”

The $2.1 million cost of the project, which includes five digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT) scanners, was entirely funded by donor support. Mills-Peninsula is part of the Sutter Health network of care, and Sutter Health matched $400,000 in donations. Although many mammography centers charge extra for the new 3D mammograms, the Women’s Center will not increase their prices.

“Community donors are a key part of our team,” says Dr. Borofsky. “Together we have established the Women’s Center as a Center of Excellence and a leader in breast imaging and diagnosis.”

Digital breast tomosynthesis units have been installed in three of the Women’s Center’s mammography rooms. The last two machines will be installed later this spring.

3D mammograms, like all screening mammograms, are covered by most health insurance plans. Women who do not have insurance may qualify for the Community Mammogram Screening Program, which provides free mammograms.