Merit Health invests in new tool to fight breast cancer

Published 5:37 pm Saturday, October 20, 2018

It’s called 3D tomosynthesis.

The recently installed mammography equipment at Merit Health River Region produces a three-dimensional image of the breast to help radiologists better read and interpret a patient’s mammogram to provide a better, and sometimes faster, diagnosis.

“It is a regular mammography machine, but instead of taking just one X-ray, it’s taking a series of slices (smaller images) and reconstructing it into a 3D image,” said Greg Honeycutt, director of diagnostic imaging at River Region.

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That means, imaging technologist Julie Lee said, a much more detailed image rather than the two-dimensional images produced by the hospital’s previous machine.

“It’s not that different (from the other machine), she said.
The difference, she said, is that the image is clearer and reduces the need for callbacks — calling the patient back for a second mammogram because of a questionable issue seen on the initial image. In many cases, she said, the questionable issue was a mass of tissue.

The new machine, Lee said, “Removes the clutter. It will go through each layer of the breast, so if it’s just tissue, it disappears, versus a mass — it will stay the same.

“Before, if the patient was very thick breasted or dense breasted, all that tissue would not necessarily spread apart, and it could mimic a mass or density — a questionable area.

“This doesn’t eliminate that, but it helps to reduce the amount of callbacks, because of the slices of the breast it could tell what truly is a mass or a density versus the tissue or those tissues layering on top of each other that don’t spread out,” Lee said.

Callbacks are probably the most anxiety-generating processes of having a mammogram, Honeycutt said, because when women come to have a mammogram, they want to get the all clear and not hear anything else.

“But whenever we had to call people back because we saw something suspicious, and had to clarify and make sure what it was, that produced an anxiety in women, because at that time, your mind always goes to the worst,” he said.

Once a mammogram has a suspicious area, he said, women in most cases must have follow-up mammograms every six months, instead of the recommended 12, to make sure the area doesn’t change doesn’t change.

With the 3D system, he said, some patients have been able to go back to an annual screening process. Honeycutt said the new machine was installed in August, but its introduction to the public was delayed while the staff was trained on the new equipment.

“We’ve come a long way image-wise in the technology, in the imagery, because it is so much more clear,” Lee said. “Studies have shown that it identifies breast cancer 15 months earlier than 2D, and also has reduced the callbacks by 40 percent.”

By reducing callbacks by 40 percent, Honeycutt said, “That’s 40 percent of our population who do not have to get that kind of stress and anxiety about wondering what that is.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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