As of this week, the Women’s Imaging Center at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital (SNMH) becomes one of the first sites in the nation to offer both 3-D mammography and automated whole breast ultrasound for the early detection of breast cancer.
“This will save lives, plain and simple,” according to Tim Stephens, vice president for professional services. “Both of these technologies have proven to find breast cancer one to two years sooner than current methods.”
Linda Waring, supervisor at the Women’s Imaging Center, said the whole breast ultrasound unit is already in use and 3-D mammography should be available for use as of today.
The automated whole breast ultrasound is one of the focuses of the “Imaging for Life” community fund raising campaign by the SNMH Foundation. Donations from the community help the hospital provide “the best tools possible” to meet the mission of improving community wellness, Stephens said.
Dr. Michael Hallenbeck, a hospital radiologist, explained the new technology and its importance.
“Conventional 2-D mammography produces a single, flattened image of the breast, making it difficult for doctors to detect small cancers,” he said. “In 3-D mammography the camera moves over the breast, taking images from multiple angles. These images are combined to create a three-dimensional rendering of the entire breast.”
He said this would help doctors spot small cancers not seen by 2-D images, and provide greater accuracy in “pinpointing size, shape, and location of abnormalities.”
Whole breast ultrasound can produce between 3,000 and 5,000 images that radiologists can examine in a motion picture format, Dr. Hallenbeck explained. He said the process is painless and will take 20 to 30 minutes.
Dr. Hallenbeck noted that standard mammography can be ineffective in revealing cancers in women with dense breast tissue, but ultrasound can find those cancers.
“More than 40 percent of women have dense breast tissue,” he said. “Studies show that ultrasound and mammography performed together can find more cancers in women with dense breasts than mammography alone.”
He added that the new technology also provides “a greater likelihood of detecting multiple breast tumors, which occur in 15 percent of breast cancer patients.”
Waring said that the new equipment, “gives greater visibility of breast detail, making cancers easier to find, so there is less chance of women being called back for a second look.”
She added that 3-D mammography will be used on all patients being screened or having diagnostic mammograms at the center.
“It takes only a few seconds more per view than traditional mammography,” she said.
Although the technology has already been acquired, Stephens noted the importance of support from the community through the Foundation campaign.
“Early adoption of technology is very expensive,” he explained. “Remember when the first VCR came out? In today’s dollars the cost for a household VCR player would be over $7,000. But we are deploying both of these technologies in the early phase because the medical benefits are so strong for our community. Staying on the forefront of technology allows us to detect cancer early before it has a chance to affect other areas of the body. Early detection is not a slogan; it truly changes treatment plans and outcomes.”
“We are proud to be one of the very few mammography facilities in the country that can offer both 3-D mammography and whole breast ultrasound. This would not be possible without the support of the SNMH Foundation and the community,” Waring added.
For more information about the Women’s Imaging Center, visit snmh.org. To schedule a mammography screening, call the Sierra Nevada Women’s Imaging Center at 530-274-6246.
All physicians providing care for patients at SNMH are members of the medical staff and are independent practitioners, not employees of the hospital.