3-D Mammography Suite opens at Naval Hospital Bremerton

Story by Douglas Stutz, Naval Hospital Bremerton Public Affairs


Naval Hospital Bremerton’s Radiology Department is now offering 3-D Mammography Suite service that effectively enhances the continual focus on breast cancer awareness and prevention.

According to Cmdr. Joel McFarland, Radiology Department Head, the advantages of 3-D mammography are the capability to detect cancers 15 months earlier, identify 41 percent more invasive cancers than conventional mammograms, and reduce unnecessary callbacks for additional views by up to 40 percent.

“It’s exciting. In the first week alone we had two cases that in the past we would have had to call back in to be sure there was no cancerous growth. With 3-D capability, we can sort out any possible potential concerns right away. It really helps to alleviate a lot of patient anxiety and not need to ask someone to return to do the process again,” said McFarland

McFarland notes that breast cancer ranks second, after lung cancer, as a leading cause of cancer death for women in the United States. The American College of Radiology recommends annual screening for women beginning at age 40.

“So screening is vital. One in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime, and eight out of nine women diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history,” added McFarland.

From the patient perspective, the breast cancer screening process is the same as it was during a conventional mammography appointment with the same compression and the same positioning. The only difference is approximately three seconds of extra time for a much better exam. There was some new hardware added to the actual mammography machine but primarily the upgrade was software, along with a new computer to handle the detail and data.

“It really is amazing. We can now see into the breast where we could not see before. The 3-D mammograms create a stacked dataset that radiologists can scroll through, to better scan through the breast layer by layer to find subtle cancer, and to avoid getting fooled by ‘summation artifact’ where overlapping tissue on a 2-D image can mimic a mass,” explained McFarland.

The new 3-D system was used for the first time on April 11, 2017 after a Navy Medicine West physician certified the upgrade and the 3-D Mammography Suite completed a thorough accreditation inspection by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Mammography Quality Standards Act to validate the quality of all mammography services.

There were over 2,800 patients last year who received annual screenings and currently an average of 20 patients a day have scheduled appointment in the 3-D Mammography Suite.

The Mammography Suite was last upgraded in 2010 with a direct digital system for real-time efficiency and enhanced medical imagery. Then as now, as soon as an image is taken it can be transmitted to a digital archive and be reviewed by the radiologist.

The benefits of digital mammography are many. The breast is composed of soft tissue mainly consisting of glandular and fatty elements. Digital mammography allows the radiologist to review electronic images of the breast using special high-resolution monitors. Objects can be magnified for close ups of specific areas of interest, adjusted brightness, increased or decreased contrast and inverted the black and white values while reviewing the images in order to thoroughly evaluate and focus on any specific area of concern.

Being able to manipulate images is one of the major benefits of digital technology because it makes it easier to detect breast cancers and 3-D Mammography improves the overall detection process

“Say your vision used to be 20/40 or 20/60 but then you got it upgraded to become 20/20 and you are clearly seeing things you never had seen before. This is what the 3D capability does for us,” stated McFarland.

There are solemn statistics to consider on breast cancer. About one in eight U.S. women – nearly 12 percent – will develop invasive breast cancer in their lifetime. Men aren’t immune either with the lifetime risk of breast cancer for a man about 1 in 1,000.

Breast cancer risk does increase as a woman ages. Research has found that cancers discovered during early screening exams are often smaller in size and more likely to be confined to the breast. When considering the size and likelihood of spread, the importance of early detection becomes obvious.

There is some good news: while a woman has a three percent chance of dying from breast cancer, incidence rates have been declining since 2000. This is likely due to earlier detection through screenings, increased awareness, and improved quality in treatment, all of which NHB’s new 3-D Mammography Suite provide.

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