By AMANDA KIMBLE
ERATH COUNTY (October 9, 2016) – October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The disease is sometimes deadly. It’s also – in many forms and stages – treatable. But, early detection is essential to improving a patient’s prognosis.
From x-ray tubes and screen-film mammography to digital mammograms and digital breast tomosyntheses, the science of breast cancer screening has come a long way.
Clair Cole, chief breast sonographer and mammographer at Stephenville Medical & Surgical Clinic (SMSC), has been performing the screenings since 1999 and said the evolution of mammography has made the process easier on medical professionals and patients.
Cole said film screening was much like the dark ages of photography. Film had to be developed – in dark rooms – and patients had to remain on-site until it was determined the best possible image had been obtained. If the images were not sufficient, the entire process had to be repeated.
Digital mammography equipment revolutionized the process, providing an instant glimpse at images. It only takes minutes for the process to be completed.
Like the practice itself, services offered by SMSC have also continued to evolve. Most recently, the physician-owned clinic made a big investment on new imaging technology that will serve as the first line of defense in the local battle against breast cancer.
In addition to a new and improved 2D digital imaging device that relies on even lower doses of radiation than the clinic’s previous equipment, the upgrade provides clearer images.
Mammograms using the new equipment started Wednesday, and Marsha Rogers, chief mammographer, said the improvement was immediately apparent.
“We can see a clearer, much more detailed image of the breast tissue,” Rogers, who has been performing the screenings for 32 years, said.
Meanwhile, patients will soon have the option to give Dr. Nanette Evans, SMSC radiological diagnostician, an even better view through the addition of digital breast tomosyntheses, commonly known as 3D mammography.
The equipment is currently in place, but Dr. Evans said FDA protocol includes as series of standards and measures over a specified time frame before 3D service can be offered to patients.
SMSC expects to offer 3D service by November 1.
“We’re thrilled to be able to offer 3D mammography to the community, and we want to get the word out to as many people as possible to let them know about this incredible technology,” Jay Pickens, SMSC radiology supervisor, said.
The three-dimensional screenings will obtain multiple images of the breast, allowing radiologists to view them as individual thin, sliced images – like the pages of a book – or as single, whole image.
Pickens said the improved technology improves the x-ray device’s sight and decreases the margin of error.
“3D mammography has been shown to increase invasive breast cancer detection by 41 percent. In addition, it has been shown to reduce the chances of being called back for additional imaging by up to 40 percent,” he said.
The term call back refers to patients who have to return to SMSC so that mammographers can obtain additional images or so that a sonogram can be performed.
Dr. Evans said SMSC already has a low callback rate of about 10 percent, but that number is expected to decrease even more.
She also said the 3D service will offer an image similar to the actual breast, giving her the ability to see inside the breast tissue and detect even the smallest abnormalities.
“The 3D mammography allows for better specificity and allows us to find even smaller invasive tumors than before by removing glandular tissue and providing a clearer picture,” she said. “We feel strongly that the 3D is a better exam, and we plan to promote the service across the board.”
3D mammograms are covered by many insurers, including Medicare, Blue Cross Blue Shield and Cigna, and patients whose policies do not include the enhanced service can choose to add 3D images to their 25 mammogram for $75.
In the name of awareness and to promote a better fight, Dr. Evans reminding women 40 years old and older about the importance of having an annual exam. She said there is no age limit.
She also said younger patients who detect inconsistencies or abnormalities in their breast tissue should consult their primary care physician, who will refer them for screening.
“We have definitely seen cancers in women younger than 40,” Dr. Evans said, adding early detection is especially important for women who are just entering the workforce and those who have children who depend on them.
In observance of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, SMSC is offering $75 mammograms for women who are uninsured or underinsured.
Mammograms can be scheduled by calling 254-968-6051 ext. 4282.
Meanwhile, Moncrief Cancer Institute, a nonprofit organization that partners with SMSC, offers funding assistance for mammograms through a breast cancer care program for individuals who are at least 35 years old.
The qualification process is quick and simple and starts by calling 800-405-7739 to schedule an appointment.