Breast tomosynthesis scores high with women and is helping patients beat breast cancer.

Nearly everyone knows someone who has battled with breast cancer. It’s like that six-degrees-of-separation phenomenon. The disease is so prevalent that we’re all somehow connected by it.

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month so we thought it would be fitting to include a special report on women’s imaging in this issue. There is much to cover when it comes to imaging and breast cancer—from the mounting movement for breast density legislation to the value of techniques like positron emission mammography.

But perhaps the most exciting news of late when it comes to winning the war on breast cancer is the arrival of breast tomosynthesis. For years, we heard about the clinical trials. Researchers and clinicians had great expectations for the technology. We all waited with bated breath for the first machine to be FDA approved. Then in February, Hologic got the good word about the company’s Selenia® Dimensions®.

The manufacturer, along with many in the industry, believes that breast tomosynthesis will revolutionize how breast cancer is detected. I set out to find just what kind of difference this newest technology is making in the lives of real women.

Sherry Gage, RT R M, is director of the John C. Lincoln Breast Health and Research Center in Phoenix, Ariz. The facility is the first nonclinical trial site in the United States to offer breast tomosynthesis to patients. Gage, a breast cancer survivor herself, is something of a cheerleader when it comes to the Selenia Dimensions. “My goal is to educate people about how fantastic tomosynthesis is, so we can offer the best exams patients can get. ? I don’t want to be the only one in Arizona with it. I want everyone to get it!”

The group went live with their new unit on April 7, 2011. Because the ACR does not yet manage accreditation for breast tomosynthesis, the facility did their accreditation process through the FDA. As of September 1, 2011, 2,900 patients have received exams.

In the beginning, the facility was using breast tomosynthesis primarily on women with dense breast tissue, as these patients stand to benefit most from it. Then something interesting occurred. After approximately 200 or so patients had been scanned, several women—many of whom did not have dense breast tissue—began asking for the exam. “It’s amazing how women educate themselves regarding technology. I wasn’t expecting all these women to start saying, ‘I want this.'” In fact, women have come from as far away as Utah and Mexico.

That’s when the John C. Lincoln Breast Health and Research Center decided to offer breast tomosynthesis to all women. Gage says her clinicians believe the screening population reaps the greatest benefit. In fact, she attributes the detection of nine cases of cancer to the Selenia Dimensions—in just 5 months. “I know of nine cancers clearly not seen on a 2D mammogram, and they could clearly be seen on the tomo-synthesis exam.”

But that’s not all. Gage credits the technology with “at least a 5% reduction in our call back rate” in women with dense breast tissue. Moreover, breast tomosynthesis is helping to reduce the biopsy rate at her facility.

One thing Gage says her group has always been proud of is their workflow. But with the growing demand for breast tomosynthesis, the facility has gone from “an amazing workflow ? to a 1-hour wait.” So, the John C. Lincoln Breast Health and Research Center just added a second Selenia Dimensions.

Clearly, this group is leading the way with the newest breast cancer detection technology. And Gage will likely continue to be one of tomosynthesis’ biggest fans, “Outcomes are so superior, and finding cancer earlier is all of our jobs ? that’s what saves lives.”

Marianne Matthews

Marianne Matthews