By Julia Richards | Illustrated by Ann Christianson
Anyone can emphathize with the dread in the pit of your stomach upon getting a call from a nurse saying you need to come back in for more testing after your recent mammogram. Maybe it turns out to be nothing, but for a few hours or days, images of losing your hair and donning a surgical gown flash through your head.
Fortunately, such scares could become less frequent as mammogram technology improves. Mammograms that provide doctors with clearer, three-dimensional views are now available at Madison’s major hospitals.
Dr. Dana Henkel, chief of surgery at SSM Health, says of the new technology, “My analogy is like having a television with rabbit ears and you know how the screen can be a little fuzzy and blurred, versus having a high definition television where your picture is really crystal clear.”
She’s been using the 3D mammograms in her practice for about a year and a half and says their greater accuracy means fewer unnecessary call backs and less stress for women.
The patient’s experience during the mammogram is exactly the same, according to Henkel, requiring the same amount of time, compression and radiation exposure. But the three-dimensional rather than two-dimensional image provides a clearer picture to the doctor.
“It’s especially helpful in women who have very dense breast tissue,” which is more common in younger women, Henkel says.
While guidelines vary across organizations, the American Cancer Society recommends women of average risk discuss with their doctors starting yearly mammograms at age 40. Those with a family history or other risk factors may need to follow different screening guidelines.
The new technology is expensive but it’s typically covered by insurance as well as Medicare. Henkel recommends 3D mammograms to all of her patients. “Really, over time this will become the standard of care and we won’t even have the old machines,” she says.