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Targeting Cancer: Detecting breast cancer early with 3D mammography

(Stick photo via Kelli Warner/Targeting Cancer)

It’s been a challenging year for Jan Killen and her family. Diagnosed with uterine cancer in June, the 69-year-old had just begun making treatment plans with her gynecologic oncologist at Willamette Valley Cancer Institute when her annual mammogram revealed something else.

“They said, ‘We think it’s breast cancer,’ and I thought, ‘How can this be?’” Jan says.

Diagnosing breast cancer

It’s estimated that 1 in 8 women in the U.S. will develop breast cancer over the course of her lifetime, and it is the most common cancer diagnosis for women in Lane County.

Jan’s breast cancer was detected through a 3D mammogram at Oregon Imaging Centers in Springfield.

“The real strength of mammography comes from being able to compare this year’s mammogram to the year previous and the year previous to that. That’s why annual mammography is so important,” says Dr. Jonathan Sims, radiology director of women’s imaging at Oregon Imaging Centers.

How 3D mammography works

During a 3D mammogram, a machine takes many low-dose X-rays as it moves over the breast, then a computer compiles the images to create a 3D picture that allows radiologists, like Dr. Sims, to see the breast tissues more clearly than what a 2D picture provides, increasing the likelihood of spotting abnormalities. This imaging improvement is also reducing the number of patients who are called back for additional testing.

“Since we adopted 3D mammography at Oregon Imaging Centers three years ago, our recall rate decreased immediately, to almost 50 percent. And what that means for a patient is that they aren’t being called back unnecessarily for things that turn out to be nothing. At the same time, 3D mammography has allowed us to detect more cancers,” he says.

Jan, a nursing instructor at Lane Community College, credits 3D mammography for catching her breast cancer early.

“They brought me in, they showed me the images and basically assured me that it was very treatable. So, that was comforting, and I thought, ‘OK. I can do this. I can do this.’”

Jan still has a long road ahead of her, undergoing chemotherapy and radiation to treat both her uterine and breast cancers. However, with support from her care team at WVCI, her nurse navigator at Oregon Imaging Centers and her family, Jan says she feels strong and she’s confident she’s in the right hands.

When should annual breast screening begin?

Annual mammograms are recommended for women starting at age 40, or earlier if you have a family history of breast cancer. Women should also know how their breasts normally look and feel and report any breast changes to their health care provider right away.

A 3D mammogram does not require a referral from a physician, but insurance coverage varies. Because Oregon Imaging Centers believes so strongly in the value of this technology, they will adjust the cost if your insurance doesn't cover it fully. For more information about breast cancer treatment, click here.

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