12:00 PM

3-D Mammography Gives Cancer Survivor Peace of Mind

Michelle Figueroa was 17, newly married and on top of the world. She and her husband felt the world was their oyster. Then the unexpected happened and she was diagnosed with trophoblastic carcinoma, a female cancer that mimics pregnancy. Barely out of high school, she began chemotherapy and subsequently lost her hair. Treatment made her very ill and led to a stay in the intensive care unit.

While treatment lasted several months, her memory of that time has lasted for decades. Today, Figueroa is 44 and cancer free. The experience left her with an awareness of what she needs to do to stay healthy for herself, her two children and her husband.

“I don’t want to go through that again,” says Figueroa. “I try to take care of myself to avoid getting sick again. I go to the doctor, get annual checkups with my gynecologist and always get my mammogram.”

Something suspicious

Figueroa got her first mammogram at age 40. She’s had an annual mammogram since. Two years ago she was called back for a diagnostic evaluation after a radiologist saw an apparent change on her 2-D mammogram.

“I was sick to my stomach,” Figueroa says. “I got a second mammogram and an ultrasound right away. The care team was wonderful, but the experience rattled me. My mind went immediately back to my previous bout with cancer.”

Figueroa’s false positive reading was due to overlapping tissue. It’s a common problem that occurs due to the nature of 2-D mammography. This past July, she elected to have 3-D mammography – also called tomosynthesis – instead.

Most patients don’t notice a difference between 2-D and 3-D mammography. The experience is similar and 3-D scans take just a few seconds longer. 3-D scans capture more images of your breasts and at multiple angles. Doctors see clearer images of the breast tissue in very small slices, which improves detection rates.

“3-D mammography is more effective for women with dense breasts and for detecting smaller cancers,” says radiologist Priya Sareen, MD, with Medical Imaging of Lehigh Valley, PC. “They also detect 41 percent more invasive breast cancers and reduce false positives up to 40 percent.”

Getting the all clear

Less than a week after Figueroa had her 3-D mammogram, she received a letter from Lehigh Valley Health Network’s Breast Imaging Services saying her results were normal. The letter also contained information about her breast density – a mandatory notification that educates women about the makeup of their breast tissue.

Dense breasts can increase a woman’s cancer risk. 3-D mammograms are proven to be more accurate for women with dense breast tissue, they also make it easier to catch breast cancer in its earliest stages.

“Women need to take time for themselves,” Figueroa says. “If you get sick you can’t take care of anyone else. Delaying your mammogram can lead to a more serious diagnosis if you do have a problem. A couple seconds can save your life.”

Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) offers 2-D and 3-D mammography using the Hologic Genius at seven locations. No prescription from your health care provider is needed for your annual exam. All insurers must cover an annual (after 365 days) 2-D screening for women beginning at age 40. Coverage for 3-D mammography varies. Check with your insurer to confirm your coverage. Many insurers cover 3-D mammography for women with dense breasts and for those at high-risk for cancer. Your doctor can help determine your risk for cancer or refer you to one of LVHN’s genetic counselors.