July 13, 2019 — One out of every eight women can expect to develop breast cancer in her lifetime. In the U.S., breast cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in women, behind lung cancer. The two main risk factors for developing breast cancer are being a woman and age, accompanied by family history.
With Florence’s large aging population, it’s important to be educated on and follow preventative care routines, and the resources are right at PeaceHealth Peace Harbor Medical Center. Earlier this year, Peace Harbor bought a new mammogram machine, making Florence only the second location on the west coast to have a Siemens mammography machine.
According to PeaceHealth mammography technician Vickie Hunt, women’s mammogram experiences in Florence are about to change.
Women’s breast tissue ranges from fatty to dense, which is completely dependent on genetics. A woman won’t know what type of breast tissue she has until her first mammogram, but about 50 percent of women have dense breast tissue. During a mammogram, the patient stands and places her breast on the flat plate of the mammography machine. A top plate will proceed to lower and essentially compress the breast in order to take an X-ray image of the breast tissue.
A mammogram can be uncomfortable and even painful for some women. In the past, women with dense breast tissue were at a disadvantage with the 2D technology available through most mammogram machines over the last decade. For women with fatty breast tissue, 98 percent of breast cancers were found using 2D, but only 48 percent of cancers were found for women with dense breasts.
Hunt said PeaceHealth’s new Siemens 3D mammogram machine changes all of this.
“Those 50 percent of women with dense breast tissue that had to worry about us missing their breast cancers until they were big enough to see with 2D, now they are on the same playing field as women with fatty breasts that are easy to see through,” she said.
Here’s why: When the 2D mammography machine compresses the breast, it has to be flattened as much as it can be in order to stretch out the denseness within and take a single image of the inside breast tissue, putting women with dense breast tissue at a disadvantage.
Radiologists examine the image and look for any abnormalities; if the patient is following the recommended annual exam schedule, the radiologist looks for changes between last year and the new image.
Sometimes breast tissue can overlap, thus covering tumors, and the denser the breast, the easier it is for the cancer to be camouflaged. If a tumor is still small enough, then the radiologist may not be able to see it with the 2D machine.
Breast cancer patients have a 98 percent survival rate when diagnosed early, but for women with dense breasts, the early diagnosis was more difficult.
With the new tomosynthesis X-ray technique, the 3D machine moves in an arch, taking 50 images of the breast tissue and compiling it into a flipbook file for the radiologist to look through. The images capture sections of the breast that together form an entire image. Tumors camouflaged in the dense breast tissue will now show up on the 3D scan.
The 3D technology was developed in 2015, but Dan Goldblatt, imaging manager at Peace Harbor, said the medical center waited to buy the machine to ensure all the bugs were worked out first, as with any new technology.
Now the 3D mammogram is living up to its expectations; the American Cancer Association reports that 3D is able to detect 40 percent more cancer in patients than 2D mammograms.
Sandy Bupp, a patient at PeaceHealth, started getting her annual mammograms at age 40, and says her experience with the 3D mammogram machine is definitely an improvement from the past 2D machines.
“Getting into position for the new machine is a bit awkward, but once they get you into position, it’s only a few seconds,” she said. “If you go every year it gets less and less uncomfortable because you know what to expect. I think it’s really important.”
According to Goldblatt, Peace Harbor chose the Siemens machine because it scans the widest angle of breast tissue with the thinnest sections of the tissue captured, meaning more cancers can be caught before they have time to grow.
“The advantage of this machine is that we can find smaller cancers and detect them much earlier to give far greater outcomes for patients,” Goldblatt said.
The new Siemen mammography machine also results in faster mammograms and less compression, meaning less discomfort for women during the exam. A mammogram exam will take five to 10 minutes, but the actual compression of the breast is only about a minute.
The new machine also has a compression plate that’s tailored to fit the shape of a breast for increased comfort and less pain during the exam.
“We used to have to compress the breast as much as possible to get the image, but now it’s only compressed enough to hold it in place,” Hunt said.
She went on to describe the optimum compression that is a new feature of the machine.
“When the plate comes down to compress, as it touches the women’s skin, it slows down and analyzes the composition of the women’s breasts and figures out the type of breast, solid or more fatty,” Hunt said. “It flashes to hit the optimum compression for that individual breast and this helps with the right amount of compression.”
This results in less pain for the patient.
However, the real advantages of the machine is its cancer detection rates.
Hunt uses the analogy of a forest to explain how much better 3D mammograms are than 2D.
“If we were standing back and looking at a forest of trees, you can tell they're trees. You can see individual trees on the tree line, but if I asked you to pick out a tree 10 feet back that has your initials on it, it would be almost impossible. That’s like the dense breasts. You can see the density, but if there is something back a ways, it’s really hard to see it,” she said. “But with the 3D it’s like you’re standing in the forest and there’s a tree in front of you, beside you, and behind you that all have your initials. It’s that much more detailed. It’s as if the radiologist is right there.”
Catching breast cancer at the earliest possible stage results in the highest survival rate. This is why PeaceHealth staff recommend annual exams for women starting at the age of 40 and continuing on through the end of one’s life; for women with a family history of breast cancer, they recommend starting at age 35. Medicare, Medicaid and most insurances cover annual mammograms starting at age 40.
“Early detection is the most critical thing you can do for your health. If you know it early on, a lot more can be done and less invasive things can be taken care of,” Bupp said — which is why she encourages her friends to go every year as well. “It’s really nice to be responsible for yourself and make sure your health is taken care of.”
Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer for American women, according to the American Cancer Society, and a woman’s risk only rises as she ages. This is why Peace Harbor has tried to make it as easy as possible for women to get their annual mammograms.
PeaceHealth uniquely does not require a referral from a patient’s provider in order to perform a mammogram. As long as patients aren’t experiencing any symptoms prompting them to get a mammogram, patients can simply call and schedule their annual appointment at Peace Harbor directly at 541-222-8765.
According to Hunt, they have practically no wait times to see patients for a mammogram appointment.
The office is open Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and evening appointments can be made upon request.
“We don’t want there to be any excuses for you not to get your mammogram,” Goldblatt added.
Peace Harbor’s 3D mammograms still require compressing the breast, and even though the new machine is more comfortable and faster, the most important part is that it provides far better results, which can ultimately save lives.
“The long-term consequences really do outweigh the short exam discomfort,” Goldblatt said.