Mercy offers latest in breast screening technologyWritten by Brigitta Burks | News Editor | BBurks@toledofreepress.com
Dr. Richard Cooper, a radiologist at Mercy Women’s Care, scrolls across a scan of a 70-year-old woman’s breast, stopping to reveal a 3-centimeter mass that wouldn’t have been visible if it weren’t for a new technology.
Mercy Women’s Care at St. Anne and St. Charles hospitals are the only facilities in the area to offer tomosynthesis. The new technology provides radiologists with a 3-D view of the breasts in addition to the 2-D view traditional mammograms offer.
“What the 3-D does is instead of sending one beam of radiation down, it goes in an arc and it’s a bunch of low-dose images that go around to create a volume, so rather than try to make the breast, which is a three-dimensional object, into a piece of paper, now we want it to be a volume,” Cooper said.
Tomosynthesis yielded 77 images, divided into 1-millimeter slices, of the patient’s breasts. A typical mammogram would have provided two images. After the scan was read, the woman was scheduled for a biopsy. When asked if he would have been able to see the mass with a standard mammogram, Cooper replied, “100 percent, no.”
Mercy Women’s Care has had the new technology since November, said Susan Jaros, director of Mercy Women’s Care. The actual exam process is akin to a regular mammogram.
The technology officially debuted after Jan. 1, but Cooper had already been using it on all patients.
“It’s almost an injustice if we have [tomosynthesis] and not give it to every patient that comes in now,” Jaros said. “So poor [Dr. Cooper], he’s here to 8, 9 o’clock at night. It’s a little more for the radiologist to read. They have a lot more to look at.”
However, Cooper said the extra work is worth it.
“You don’t mind staying when you’re doing so much more good,” Cooper said.
Jaros has been keeping a close eye on tomosynthesis, which was FDA-approved in February of 2011.
“For years, I’ve been watching and budgeting for it,” she said.
The four machines, two at St. Charles and two at St. Anne, cost $1.8 million.
Despite being state-of-the-art, Mercy doesn’t charge its patients more for tomosynthesis.
“The unique thing about this is there’s no additional reimbursement,” Jaros said. “It’s the same as what we get for regular mammograms.”
The addition of tomosynthesis also meant more training for Cooper and the technicians. Cooper flew to Boston, where tomosynthesis was developed, for additional training and an expert came to Mercy to instruct technicians.
Massachusetts General Hospital has been developing tomosynthesis for 10 years. The technology is a fusion of past and present, blending older techniques used to find kidney stones and GPU, or “graphic processing units” — newer technology used in video games. GPU enabled the technology by allowing faster information transmission.
“They transfer data and they process it so fast that now you can take a series of images to create a normal model,” Cooper said.
Since tomosynthesis’ Toledo debut, several women have called and asked for the new procedure. One woman, who wouldn’t have come in if it weren’t for the new technology, found she needed to have surgery to remove a mass.
“She’s doing great. It was nice and early and she’s already done with surgery and doing great,” Cooper said.
Early detection is one of the major benefits tomosynthesis offers.
“It’s decreasing the number of women that have to come back from the screening mammogram for extra views and it’s increasing the ability to find breast cancer earlier. Those are the two big things we’ve noticed so far,” Cooper said.
Tomosynthesis, which Cooper called the biggest discovery he’s seen in his 12 years of practice, could have implications in other fields, too.
“This is something that will get expanded. There are already people looking into chest (lung) tomosynthesis,” he said.
Some women have called in with concerns about possible increased radiation from tomosynthesis. However, Cooper said Mercy’s equipment does not apply more radiation to breast tissue than a standard mammogram.
“You’re taking that same ‘x’ amount of radiation distributed through breast tissue, so the amount per unit of breast tissue is less as it goes through,” he said
A standard mammogram has no more radiation than an airplane ride, he added.
In the next three to five years, both Jaros and Cooper believe tomosynthesis will become the standard of care. It has already drastically changed Cooper’s job.
“It’s like you take a 100-question, multiple-choice test every single day and then finally, one morning someone comes in and gives you 75 percent of the answers every time you take it,” Cooper said.
Cooper recommended women 40 and older get screened for breast cancer every year and women between 35 and 40 get screened once during those five years. Women younger than 40 with a family history of breast cancer should consult their doctors.
Visit www.mercyweb.org/womensservicesmammogram.aspx for more information.