Breast cancer has nowhere to hide at the Veterans Affairs (VA) Maryland Health Care System, which is the first health care system in the state to offer three-dimensional mammograms and the first VA in the country to offer this new technology to women Veterans. The VA Maryland Health Care System has acquired 3D mammography as part of its fight against breast cancer. The new technology, known as breast tomosynthesis, allows doctors to examine breast tissue one layer at a time, rendering deeper and more accurate readings. Additionally, the health care system hired a new radiologist—Dr. Rakhi Goel—who is dedicated to reading mammograms and the next generation of 3D images.
“As a worldwide leader in imaging, the VA Maryland Health Care System is thrilled to offer our Veteran patients access to this revolutionary technology,” said Eliot Siegel, MD, FACR, FSIIM, chief of Imaging Service at the VA Maryland Health Care System and a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
Dr. Siegel is known for launching the world’s first digital imaging department at the Baltimore VA Medical Center and for helping to perform research on IBM’s Watson Jeopardy! technology. “Because the new machine takes multiple images of the breast in just seconds and produces a 3D image of the breast tissue in one-millimeter layers, it allows for more accurate readings and the ability to detect cancers earlier when they are most treatable, ” says Siegel. The 3D mammography system combines a process known as breast tomosynthesis to produce a 3D mammogram.
“I am honored to work with the VA Maryland Health Care System, known for its state-of-the-art medical care, as they begin to offer Veteran patients this advanced technology, “ says Dr. Rakhi Goel, director of breast imaging at the Baltimore VA Medical Center. “With 3D mammography, breast tissue is more clearly evaluated, which will improve our ability to understand sooner when there is a potential cancer – and when there isn’t. This will reduce the need for unnecessary follow-up appointments and undue worry by our Veteran patients.”
During the 3D mammography procedure, the x-ray arm sweeps over the breast, taking multiple images in just seconds. 3D mammography uses high-powered computing to convert the images into a 3D image, which can then be examined by a doctor one “slice” at a time. Fine details are more clearly visible and no longer hidden by the tissue above and below.
The new machine requires just a few seconds longer for a patients’ breast tissue to remain inside the paddles as the state-of- the-art system moves in an arc above them. Tomosyththesis reduces tissue overlap effects and then reconstructs the data to generate images that enhance the visibility of objects. “There are major benefits to having tomosynthesis,” says Goel, who notes that the Imaging Service has a reading station dedicated to reading the 3D images. “The first is that it can more accurately detect small breast cancers that may have remained hidden in the 2D mammographic images. Another benefit is that the ‘slices’ allow better accuracy for seeing normal overlap in the tissue, especially in dense breasts that may falsely appear suspicious in the 2D image.”
The images of the reconstructed tomosynthesis slices are displayed similar to CAT scan images. “The resulting clearer images allow for more confident readings by resolving or revealing suspicious areas digitally as a result of the tomosynthesis,” says Dr. Goel.
“There will substantially fewer call-backs because of more accurate readings, which will result in fewer biopsies, as well as higher cancer detection rates,” says Siegel in discussing the benefits of this new technology for Veteran patients throughout the VA Maryland Health Care System. For more information contact Rosalia Scalia of Veterans Health Administration at 410-605-7464.