UIHC first to test new breast cancer technology


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The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics is at the national forefront of a new technology designed to test for breast cancer.

Starting Wednesday, the UIHC became the first hospital in the country to use a new breast-imaging technology: digital tomosynthesis.

“We’ve upgraded all our equipment to the latest technology for breast cancer screening — digital breast tomosynthesis,” said Laurie Fajardo, the chairwoman of the Radiology Department.

Digital tomosynthesis differs from the traditional mammogram method in the images it provides. Instead of only offering two images of the breast, Digital Tomosynthesis offers many images of the breast, giving doctors many slices to examine.

“Instead of the X-ray being perpendicular, the beam sweeps, making multiple exposures,” said Barbara Monsees, the head of the American College of Radiology Breast Imaging Commission.

By providing multiple images, doctors looking for possible breast cancer are able see much more.

Using the traditional method, doctors often found breast tissue would overlap and obscure less dense areas.

“We can see smaller things much better and especially see through dense breast tissue,” Fajardo said.

Tomosynthesis itself is not a new technology; however, the switch to a digital format and its use in breast imaging is new. In fact, the UIHC played a role in developing the advanced technology.

“The University of Iowa breast radiologists have been intensely participating and providing essential data in the development of Tomosynthesis,” Park said.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the use of tomosynthesis early this year, and the UIHC installed its first unit on Sept. 10, said Jeong Mi Park, a UI clinical professor of radiology. The unit can provide both the new technology as well as the traditional methods. There is also a unit at the Iowa River Landing Clinic, which will be in use once the clinic opens.

Each unit cost the UIHC approximately $500,000.

“The technology is relatively inexpensive compared to other radiology equipment like CT, MRI, or PET scans,” Farjardo said.

Park said women who are tested will not physically feel much of a difference.

“Patients will not feel significant difference from the traditional 2-D exam,” she said.

Currently, tomosynthesis is still undergoing testing. Monsees said it is too early to endorse the technology, but she holds hope that it will prove to be beneficial.

“The hope of digital tomosynthesis is that it can do two things: improve the recall rate and to improve our ability to find cancer,” she said. “If either or both of those are true, it certainly may be an advantage over whatever we have.”

Even though Monsees is hesitant to endorse tomosynthesis until all the research is in, she believes fully in the importance of screening for breast cancer.

Park stressed the importance of early detection.

“It is very important to find out breast cancer before it gets to the clinical stage and at its curable stage,” Park said.

And in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the UIHC is offering Walk-In Wednesdays, on which women can receive a mammogram without an appointment.

The need for early detection is part of the reason why Walk-In Wednesdays were created in the first place. Last year, roughly 30-40 women took advantage of the Walk-In Wednesday program each Wednesday. Fajardo said she hopes to see that number double this year.

“We found that certain populations of women in our community weren’t undergoing regular breast cancer screening, so we tried to be creative and make it a little more convenient for them during breast cancer awareness month in October,” she said.

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