Memorial Hospital introduces 3D digital mammography

There’s a new tool in the fight to detect breast cancers and Memorial Hospital’s Imaging Department recently introduced its use for the local community. Digital breast tomosynthesis is a technology that creates a three-dimensional image of the breast that is more sensitive and accurate than traditional digital mammography.

Since FDA approval of breast tomosynthesis in 2013, the use of 3D imaging has spread throughout the country for both screening and diagnostic mammograms. At Memorial, the use of breast tomosynthesis is now standard protocol.

The new technology divides the compressed breast into thin images or “slices” that allows the radiologist to view the breast through many layers. Dr. John Kustan, the on-site radiologist at Memorial, is very impressed with the benefits of 3D breast mammography.

“Two-dimensional mammograms are excellent, but there are limitations,” he explained. “The average breast is compressed to a thickness of 1 to 3 inches.  On conventional mammography, these thick compressed images can hide small lesions, particularly in dense breasts.”  In addition, Dr. Kustan points out that compression can cause overlap of tissue creating a “false lesion” which would require the patient to return for additional images.

“Tomosynthesis divides the compressed breast into one-millimeter thick slices,” Dr. Kustan explained. “For reference, there are 25 millimeters in an inch. Therefore, a three-inch thick compressed breast will have at least 75 slices for the radiologist to review.  The slices are constructed by computer with no additional radiation.”

He added that the thin slices better characterize lesions as benign or malignant and more accurately localize the lesion within the breast. “This translates to an increase in cancer detection and a decrease in number of unnecessary biopsies.”

Dr. Kustan says the research results on use of 3D mammography are significant. “There is a 15 – 40% decrease in the number of false positive recalls with the 3D system compared to 2D mammograms because of the confidence we have in the images. We’re also seeing a 30% increase in detection of all cancers and a 40% increase in detection of early invasive cancers.”

The National Institutes of Health cites benefits of clinical breast imaging with tomosynthesis in both screening and diagnostic evaluation. The primary benefits are the visualization of cancers that may not be apparent by conventional mammography, better assessment of lesions that are detected, a reduction in false positive recalls and the need for fewer biopsies.  Dr. Kustan points out that 80% of biopsies done in response to lesions detected in 2D mammograms are determined to be non-cancerous.

Sherry Cormier, RT(R), director of Memorial’s imaging services, is proud of the technology her department offers to the community. “We’re very pleased to bring the 3D mammography online,” she said recently. “Our staff has been fully trained in its operation as have the radiologists who read the images. Our primary focus continues to be providing the very best quality care to our patients.”

She added that Memorial is the first member of the MaineHealth system to bring 3D mammography online. “We were also the first small hospital in New England to use digital technology, and all of our major diagnostic imaging services are accredited by the American College of Radiology.”

More than half of the U.S. News and World Report top 20 cancer hospitals offer the Hologic 3D Mammography technology now available at Memorial Hospital. Five million women to date in the United States have already been screened with this life-changing technology.

A few insurance companies are not yet covering 3D mammography so the hospital suggests patients may want to contact their insurer in advance to be certain that CPT code 77063 is covered under their plans.

For more information about imaging services at Memorial Hospital, call 356-4949 Ext. 7502, ask your provider, or visit the hospital’s website at


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