Advances in medical science have brought routine mammography screening into the 21st-century. 

Across Meeker and McLeod counties, hospitals including Glencoe Regional Health Services, Hutchinson Health and Meeker Memorial Hospital introduced 3D mammography within the last year. In March, Hutchinson Health introduced this new technology, and Glencoe Regional Health Services acquired 3D mammography in Dec. 2017. 

The Meeker County Memorial Hospital recently purchased a 3D mammography machine to better serve its patients and installed it in mid May. Mammography, traditionally performed with 2D digital technology, is a technique that uses X-rays to locate tumors or irregularities in breast tissue.

“There really is no difference between a 2D and 3D mammography exam in terms of in the length of the exam or the patient’s experience,” said Director of Medical Imaging at Glencoe Regional Health Services Heather Ott in an interview. “The key difference is in the results of the exam: increased detection of invasive breast cancers, a superior exam for women with dense breasts and fewer follow-up mammograms for patients.”

The new 3D technology, also called tomosynthesis, allows for technicians to get more accurate and detailed images. In some cases, the new technology has provided a more cost-effective scan than the traditional 2D mammography. 

"We've seen 40 percent less callbacks," said Meeker Memorial Radiology Manager Melissa Freeman. "Callbacks are when a radiologist can't see an image." 

Freeman, who uses both the 2D and 3D technology daily, said patients can still have a choice between the two technologies. The difference between 2D and 3D is in the data. Freeman said so much data is supplied from a 3D mammography scan.

"It takes images in an arc motion," Freeman said. "Say you have 6 centimeters of tissue. The machine takes an image for every millimeter of breast tissue, so that's 60 images."

The difference is in the data

Tomosynthesis takes multiple images in slices that are combined to create a three-dimensional image of the entire breast. Traditional mammography takes two images of each breast, a side-to-side and top-to-bottom view. Freeman said this technology provides a beneficial service for patients who may have denser breast tissue. 

"Breast tissue can be really dense and obscure cancer," Freeman said. "This leads to us offering more thorough care for our patients." 

Freeman said the technology has been out for years, it's just taken some time to acquire it. 

"It's really made its debut this year in Greater Minnesota," Freeman said.

3D mammography was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2011. According to a study at Lund University, 3D mammography detected cancerous tissue at a rate of 34 percent more over a period of five years. The study screened more than 15,000 women and found a majority of the infected tumors were invasive cancers. 

The practice has grown more popular through its past eight years of existence. In January of 2017, about 3,011 facilities offered tomosynthesis. As of Oct. 1, 2018, there are more than 8,704 facilities offering these services, with Meeker Memorial as one. The total number of annual mammography procedures given as of Dec. 1 have equalled more than 39.2 million. 

To accommodate the new technology, the hospital had to make upgrades to its internet networks within its facility. Freeman said the hospital had to make these improvements to facilitate the data created by the machine and the speed at which it could be transferred. 

For Meeker Memorial to acquire the technology, more than $105,000 was given by donors to the Meeker Memorial Foundation. Marc Vaillancourt said these donors came from across the hospital's service area. 

"We started this campaign in Aug. 2017," Vaillancourt said. "Within excess of $106,851 was given to purchase this machine. That speaks to the generousity of the people in this area.

What to expect when scheduling mammography exam 

Depending on the healthcare service provider, a referral may or may not be needed to get a 2D or 3D mammography screening. Women over 40 are encourage to get screenings each year. If under 40 years of age, talking with a healthcare provider before scheduling a screening may be beneficial.

According to Glencoe Health Services, the entire procedure takes no more than 20 minutes. If scheduling an appointment, here are some tips to take into consideration for the day of the screening:

  • Do not wear antiperspirant, perfumes or deodorant on the day of the screening. These can show up as white spots on the x-ray. 
  • During the scan, a patient will be asked to undress and put on a gown. A technician will position and compress each breast between plates attached to the machine. Compression reduces exposure to the X-ray and produces a higher-quality image.
  • The compression may last only a few seconds, but patients may experience mild discomfort. Notify the technician if there is pain. 
  • Sometimes, followup testing is needed, but should not cause any alarm to the patient. 
  • Sometimes a biopsy is needed to further investigate any abnormalities after a follow up mammogram. A technician will take a small sample of tissue with a a hollow needle. 
  • Contact your insurance agency to learn about the cost of 2D or 3D mammography or your nearest healthcare provider.

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