3-D mammography called ‘a great advance’

Bill Smithro, operations manager of Conemaugh Advanced Imaging, speaks during an interview with The Tribune-Democrat on Sept. 19, 2017.

All hospitals in the region have been using 3-D mammography, also known as tomography, for at least a year.

The doctors say it’s living up to the hype.

“I think it is a great advance of imaging in breast cancer,” breast surgeon Dr. Diana Craig said from UPMC Altoona.

“I think the radiologists are picking up a lot of cancer that would be hidden.”

The tomography system sends an X-ray camera in an arc around the breast during the mammogram, taking images as it moves. The pictures are then assembled on a computer to create a three-dimensional view.

The technology advance probes deeper into the breast and clarifies some structures, doctors say.

“I think they are great in some women,” Johnstown breast surgeon Dr. Patti Ann Stefanick said. “They will take a dense mammogram and clear it up.”

Tomosynthesis is especially useful in younger women with dense breast tissue, said Mary Elko, mammography and quality control technologist at Joyce Murtha Breast Care Center in Windber.

“3-D looks deeper into the breast tissues,” Elko said. “We get fewer false positives and have fewer call-backs for these patients.”

Because it takes so many images, tomosynthesis exposes patients to a slightly higher dose of radiation than two-dimensional digital mammography. 

But the dose is still significantly less than the film mammograms used until the early 2000s, Elko said.

“Ours is the lowest dose of radiation given in a 3D-mammogram,” she said. “That’s the type of machine we have.”

Bill Smithtro, operations manager, said Conemaugh Advanced Imaging in Richland is working to reduce the radiation dose even more as the department prepares to move early next year into Conemaugh’s new Richland Outpatient Center. The new building is under construction behind the current Conemaugh Richland building at 1450 Scalp Avenue.

“We will have an area that is basically a women’s center,” Smithtro said.  

Randy Griffith is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5057. Follow him on Twitter @PhotoGriffer57.

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