Mammography is the only imaging modality that has been proven to decrease death from breast cancer, so women are encouraged to begin annual screenings at 40 years of age or earlier if they have a family history.
However, current research suggests that mammograms may not be enough for women with dense breasts, which can mask and delay a cancer diagnosis.
“Increased breast density is first detected by mammogram, where glandular and supportive tissue look white, as do tumors,” said Dr. Lisa Allen, director of the Capital Health Center for Comprehensive Breast Care and a fellowship trained breast surgeon. “The denser the tissue, the more difficult it is to detect tumors, which may lead to a delay in diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer.”
According to the American Cancer Society, breasts are considered dense if they have a lot of fibrous or glandular tissue and not much fatty tissue. Breast density varies greatly among women and is a trait that can be inherited. Recent studies show that more than half of women younger than age 50 and one third of women older than age 50 have dense breasts.
Being aware of your breast density is crucial, especially if additional imaging is necessary to make a diagnosis. For those in the Delaware Valley region, Capital Health’s Center for Comprehensive Breast Care offers a wide range of imaging options through the Women’s Imaging Center at Capital Health Medical Center – Hopewell.
3D mammography and whole breast 3D screening ultrasound are additional options that, when used with mammography, provide clearer pictures than 2D digital mammography alone. Where a screening mammogram takes one image of the breast, a 3D mammogram (also called breast tomosynthesis) takes multiple images to give doctors a clearer, three-dimensional image of the breast tissue. Whole breast 3D screening ultrasound uses sound waves instead of x-ray technology to produce images of the breast tissue.
Molecular breast imaging (MBI), is another advanced imaging modality that is used with mammography as a diagnostic tool and for screening women who are at high risk for breast cancer. MBI uses a radiotracer to help distinguish potentially cancerous masses from underlying breast tissue. Capital Health was the first in the region to offer MBI and the first in the country to install the Discovery* NM 750b MBI device from GE Healthcare.
“For women who have dense breasts, these advanced imaging options can help us detect breast cancer much sooner. Patients should talk to their physicians about obtaining a 3D mammogram if they have dense breasts or an MBI if they are at high risk for breast cancer. 3D screening mammograms can only be performed if the referring physician specifically requests it on the prescription,” said Dr. Anne Moch, a board certified radiologist and breast imaging specialist at the Women’s Imaging Center at Capital Health Medical Center – Hopewell.
For physicians who are ordering a 3D screening mammogram, the order must indicate “screening mammogram with tomosynthesis” or “screening mammogram with 3D.”
To schedule your annual screening mammogram, call 609-394-6695 or visit capitalbreast.org/schedulemammo to request your appointment online. To learn about Capital Health’s Center for Comprehensive Breast Care, visit capitalbreast.org.