OKEECHOBEE — Raulerson Hospital will soon offer 3-D mammography.
Raulerson Hospital hosted a Women’s Health Day Luncheon at Indian River State College on Oct. 30. Guest speakers included Melissa Mills, director of radiology, Dr. Alex Vennos, radiologist, and Dr. James Bradfield.
Mammography has come a long way over the years, said Ms. Mills. Years ago, women didn’t talk about their breasts, especially to a male doctor, she said.
In the 1930s, the first radiographic images used the same technology as X-rays of other parts of the body.
In the 1960s, the first dedicated mammography unit was developed. In the 1980s, Xeromammography was developed; This process was a photoelectric method of recording an X-ray image on a coated metal plate, using low-energy photon beams, long exposure time and dry chemical developers. Next, digital mammography allowed the radiologist to view the results on a computer screen. All of these screening methods were two-dimensional.
The latest advance is 3-D digital mammography, which Raulerson Hospital will soon offer in Okeechobee.
With each development, the quality of the images has improved and the amount of radiation used has decreased, explained Dr. Vennos. “We probably use 1 percent of what was used in the 1930s.” The amount of radiation a woman receives during a mammogram is about the same as she would get flying in an airplane.
He said 3-D mammography is the equivalent of a CAT scan. The new process gets rid of overlapping shadows and allows the radiologist to view “slices” of the 3-D image. He said it’s like taking one slice from a loaf of bread to examine it individually.
Because the images are so clear, women who have 3-D mammography are much less likely to have to come back in for a second test, he added.
“We are very excited to be able to offer 3-D to the community,” said Ms. Mills. She said with the 3-D mammography, health professionals can detect breast cancer before the woman has any symptoms.
Dr. Vennos said he just completed the training to read 3-D mammograms. He said 2-D mammography will still be available. The patient’s doctor will order 3-D or conventional mammograms.
“I think it’s a no-brainer,” he said. “You get a better image with a 3-D. It’s better, hands down.”
He said how often a woman should have a mammogram depends on her age, medical history and family history. “After age 40, I recommend yearly mammograms,” he said.
Dr. Bradfield also encouraged annual mammograms. He said this is something the patient should discuss with their doctor.
Dr. Bradfield also discussed the two types of the breast cancer gene (BRCA).
“Men and women have copies of both of these genes from birth,” he explained. When BRCA genes are normal, they help prevent cancer.
“Their job is to repair DNA breaks,” Dr. Bradfield explained. DNA breaks can lead to cancer.
BRCA genes are tumor suppressor genes, he said. However, in some people BRCA1 and BRCA2 do not work properly. When a gene becomes altered or broken, it doesn’t function correctly. This is called a gene mutation. Mutations of the BRCA genes increase the chances of cancer.
One in 400 people have the defective gene, said Dr. Bradfield. Carrying the mutant genes does not mean you will have cancer, he said, but it increases the risk of having breast cancer. The carrier of the mutated gene can also pass a gene mutation down to his or her offspring.
He said other genes also help prevent cancer.
Dr. Bradfield said genetic testing is recommended for those who have a family history of multiple relations with mutated BRCA genes, for women who have breast cancer before age 50 and for men who have breast cancer at any age.
Dr. Bradfield said for accurate results, it is important to use a reputable medical DNA testing lab. For example, DNA testing by companies like “23 and Me” is not for this purpose.
Those who do carry mutated genes are encouraged to start screening mammograms at an earlier age and to have mammograms more frequently.
He said in the future there may be a way to repair the damaged genes with immunotherapy.