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Breast exams offered in 3-D

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While acknowledging that no one likes to undergo a medical procedure — especially one in which the words “tumor” and “cancer” may be used — Northern Arizona Healthcare is trying to minimize the stress women undergo during and after breast exams.

In February, Verde Valley Medical Center, Verde Valley Medical Center Sedona Campus and Verde Valley Medical Imaging Center began offering 3-D mammography to patients. According to the equipment and software manufacturer, Hologic, the exam results in earlier detection of cancer cells and reduced callbacks for false positive or inconclusive results, when compared to 2-D mammography.


Furthermore, data suggests the digital image resulting from the exam, which gives a radiologist three images comprising 1-millimeter “slices” of breast tissue, is superior for inspecting and diagnosing dense breast tissue.

The result of the investment — which came with a price tag of over $500,000 — is that fewer women will have to pay the emotional, physical and economic cost of additional testing, including biopsies, when there may be nothing to worry about. Additionally, exposure to radiation is minimized.

“With 3-D technology, it actually lessens the need for biopsies,” NAH Lead Mammographer Irma Monreal said. “With its higher sensitivity, it can actually find cancers 15 months earlier than a 2-D system could .... It’s highly recognized equipment, preferred for women’s health.”

With early diagnosis, the breast cancer survival rate approaches 100 percent, according to the American Cancer Society.

The test is used on all incoming VVMC, VVMC Sedona and VVMIC patients unless they request a 2-D

 test. The savings for the latter option, however, is minimal: At a maximum of $15 additional in out-of-pocket costs, the test is “probably the least expensive of all the facilities in the area,” according to Monreal. Upwards of $75 per 3-D exam is charged elsewhere, she added.

During the exam, a patient remains in compression once, for 12 seconds, resulting in three images. Compared to 2-D exams, which keep a patient in compression more than once for a greater duration of time, the new technology allows for a more efficient and comfortable procedure.

“NAH is investing in the health of the community by investing in these high-end machines,” NAH Director of Imaging Liz Palomino, said, adding that the technology has been around for about a decade but only gained popularity in the last three or four years.

Standard screening exams — those not referred by a doctor but requested by a patient with no symptoms — are available in Sedona to anyone who can provide a physician to which the results can be sent. Diagnostic screenings result from previous abnormal screenings or reported symptoms and are referred by physicians to VVMC, where a radiologist is available to examine results.

“If you feel that you’re at high risk, contact your physician first to see if 3-D imaging is right for you,” Monreal said.

To take a breast cancer risk assessment, visit nahealth.com/breast-cancer-risk.

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