When Robyn Podany went for her annual mammogram at the Sentara RMH Funkhouser Women’s Center, the radiologic technologist asked if she wanted a 3D mammogram, also known as 3D tomography or tomosynthesis.
“I said yes,” says Robyn, 51, who had recently moved to the Shenandoah Valley with her job at the National Park Service.
Several days later, Robyn was called back for a diagnostic exam using ultrasound. A callback was not unusual for her.
“I have small, dense breasts, and I always get called back for an ultrasound, so I wasn’t worried,” Robyn recalls. “But this time the radiologist came in, and I said, ‘You’re a new twist to this scene.’”
The radiologist, Emily Ritchie, MD, told Robyn that she had a small tumor. It was good thing that she had the 3D mammogram: The tumor likely would not have shown up on a standard, two-dimensional mammogram.
Robyn’s tumor was an aggressive type of cancer. When she had a needle biopsy a week later, the tumor already measured 1.1 inches in diameter, and another tiny tumor had developed. Fortunately, no cancer was detected in Robyn’s lymph nodes.
“The 3D tomography machine saved my life,” Robyn says. “If I’d waited until I could feel the tumor, it could have been much worse.”
In a 3D exam, hundreds of low-dose X-ray exposures are taken, explains Scott Pease, MD, a radiologist at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital. In contrast to the two views of each breast provided by a traditional mammogram, 3D mammograms provide one picture per millimeter, resulting in a clearer image.
Dr. Pease also notes that several published studies have shown that 3D imaging better detects invasive breast cancer and results in fewer “false alarms.”
“I can’t say enough good things about 3-D,” Robyn says. “I’m very passionate about it.”