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3D Isn’t Just for the Movies: St. Joseph’s Women’s Imaging Center Offers New Option for Early Detection

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Yearly mammograms for women over the age of 40 are one of the most important tools in the fight against breast cancer. Since they were implemented in 1990, routine mammograms have reduced the mortality rate due to breast cancer by 40 percent. A breast imaging tool, mammograms are used to detect and diagnose breast disease; mammography is considered the most effective breast cancer screening method because it can identify problems long before physical symptoms can be seen or felt.

Mammograms aren’t something most women look forward to. They can be anxiety-producing and, frankly, a little uncomfortable. But women also know that breast screenings are the best tool for early detection of breast cancer. Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Medical Center of Stockton not only strives to make the screening experience for their patients as comfortable as possible, they’ve also added the newest advancement in digital mammography known as 3D mammography or digital
breast tomosynthesis.

HERLIFE recently had an informative and enlightening discussion with St. Joseph’s Women’s Imaging Center manager Pamela Stolley about the process and benefits of St. Joseph’s 3D mammography screening and why this new option is something all women should consider.

HLM: What is 3D mammography?
PS: 3D mammography is an FDA-approved advanced technology that captures standard mammography views along with multiple angled views. I tell our patients that traditional mammograms are like looking at the section of an orange. With the new 3D mammography, that section is enhanced and we can examine every seed and section of pulp. 3D mammography gives our breast specialists the ability to see one millimeter slices throughout the breast, reducing issues that were caused by overlapping tissue. Research has proven that 3D mammography can significantly improve cancer detection in women with dense breasts as well.

HLM: How is a 3D mammogram different or better than a regular digital mammogram?
PS: Traditional mammograms create a two-dimensional image of a woman’s breast tissue. With 3D mammography, multiple images, or X-rays, of breast tissue are taken to recreate a three-dimensional picture of the breast. This 3D technology also boosts the accuracy of mammography screening, but patients will notice little difference between 3D mammography and traditional screenings. The process is the same; there is no increase in the low dose of radiation and the time is only a few seconds longer. Once the patient is positioned as they would be with a traditional mammogram screening, an X-ray tube moves in an arc around the breast while nine different images are taken during the examination. Then the information is sent to a computer, where it is assembled to produce clear, highly focused three-dimensional images throughout the breast for our radiologists to review.

HLM: Can anyone ask their doctor for a 3D mammogram instead of a traditional mammogram?
PS: St. Joseph’s Medical Center is one of the only centers in San Joaquin County to offer this innovative new screening process and we strive to inform every patient of both the traditional screening and the 3D screening options. Though many insurance providers cover the 3D mammograms, some do not. The best course of action is to simply ask your insurance provider or your breast screening center.

HLM: Does the 3D option still involve the squeezing of the breast?
PS: The 3D mammogram still uses the “squeeze” method because it is the most effective way to get clear images and finite details of breast tissue. On the flip side, patients have told us that they are grateful to not have to hold their breath during the 3D procedure as they are asked during a 2D mammogram. One thing we’ve noticed about the images produced by the digital breast tomosynthesis process is that they are what we would call “beautiful,” not like art, but beautiful because they are so strikingly clear, crisp and defined. These enhanced images allow our team to see through the breast and detect questionable areas with greater accuracy.

HLM: We understand that St. Joseph’s is a Breast Center of Excellence. What does that mean?
PS: St. Joseph’s Women’s Imaging Center is proud to be a Breast Center of Excellence, a designation that is awarded to breast imaging centers that achieve excellence by seeking and earning accreditation in all of the American College of Radiology accreditation programs and modules. We feel that this special recognition, along with our welcoming atmosphere, all-female staff and a true passion for raising the bar on women’s breast health, sets us apart from other screening facilities. We strongly believe that by adding 3D mammography to our arsenal, we will not only make breast cancers easier to detect in dense breast tissue, but make the breast screening more comfortable for those who come through our doors for care. ■

For more information about Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Medical Center’s 3D mammography, visit them at