AUSTIN -- 3D imaging is changing the face of medicine. Three-dimensional mammography when combined with conventional 2D imaging can help find cancer at a much higher rate. Unfortunately that technology hasn't been available in Central Texas, but that is about to change July 1.
Doctors first diagnosed Valerie Shaw with Stage 2 breast cancer in September 2009. Even though she's celebrating three years cancer-free this month, a sobering statistic is not far from her thoughts.
"As a breast cancer survivor, my chances for recurrence for my particular type of cancer are about 17 percent," said Shaw.
It's why she still comes to the Breast Center at St. David's Medical Center for regular mammograms. However two months ago, she decided to put it off and wait. She learned new 3D mammography technology was coming in July.
"I was familiar with this 3D machine in other major cities," said Shaw. "When St. David's made me aware they were bringing this online in the early summer I said, 'That's a no brainer. Let's wait.'"
Here's how the 3D mammograms work. The imaging arm moves in an arc above the breast taking a series of images. Using this initial data set, the computer then projects the visual detail into three-dimensional space in layered millimeter slices.
"With the three-dimensional technique, we can basically peel back layer after layer," said Brenda Baumann, R.N., the director of the Breast Center at St. David's. "It's like thumbing through a book."
Doctors use the 3D mammograms in conjunction with traditional 2D machines, but say the 3D's superb image quality adds, well, another dimension.
"One of the issues with two-dimensional was the tissue overlapping other tissue," said Baumann. "The tissue on top of tissue could obscure or sometimes even mimic pathology."
A recent study involving 13,000 women showed 3D mammograms resulted in 53 percent improvement in detection of invasive cancers as well as a reduction in unnecessary biopsies. It's why Shaw wanted to wait for 3D to become reality in Austin.
"Now that they have these clear films, it's just going to be amazing in detecting early breast cancer, and the earlier your breast cancer is detected, the higher your chances of survival," she said.
Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among women exceeded only by lung cancer.