By Sabina Mollot
With October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Bellevue Hospital has recently invested in new 3D mammogram imaging technology, which studies have shown leads to earlier detection of breast cancer. The hospital has also purchased new biopsy machines, which are needed to read the images from the mammography technology, known as Digital Breast Homesynthesis.
Dr. Hildegard Toth, section chief of breast imaging at Bellevue, said the new technology was a very important development in breast imaging as it reduces false positives, which in turn reduces the chances patients will be called back for follow-up visits. According to peer-reviewed papers that have looked at the technology as used in 13 centers, the number of patients being called back for followup appointments was reduced by 15 percent.
It also is able to detect early cases of cancer, which means in those cases, patients have more options for treatment.
“Generally, these are small cancers, less aggressive and would not have been found otherwise,” Toth said.
The way the imaging system works is that it’s able to produce a series of images of the breast, which can then be broken down and reconstructed to show breast tissue in multiple slice-like sections, not unlike a loaf of bread.
“It affords the ability to reduce the effects of tissue overlap, because sometimes you have breast tissue that is superimposed and you’ll be unable to distinguish an abnormality from something that’s benign,” Toth said.
Previously, the hospital had been using 2D digital mammogram technology, and prior to that an analog system.
To celebrate the new technology, Bellevue offered free mammograms last Tuesday following a ribbon cutting ceremony. Toth said the traditional recommendation of when to get a mammogram hasn’t changed; women who are 40 and older should get one annually. They should continue to do so until they are no longer in good health and must then, along with their physicians, decide if the benefits of the procedure is worth the pain since at that point, their health issues are likely due to something else. “If you’re in the ICU it doesn’t make sense to get a mammogram,” said Toth. Obviously, if a woman is considered a higher risk, due to a family history of cancer, she may also need to also get screened via an MRI or ultrasound.
Toth added that an excuse she frequently hears from women who don’t want to bother getting a mammogram is that they don’t have any relatives with breast cancer. However, most women who get breast cancer don’t have a family history of the disease.
“The vast majority have no history whatsoever,” Toth said. “Fifteen to 25 percent of patients have some kind of family history.”
The new machines cost around $1 million, not including the same machines now at downtown hospital Gouverneur Health.
That hospital, like Bellevue, is run by NYC Health + Hospitals.