New 3-D mammography coming to Mercy Medical Center

The newly installed 3-D mammography machine is seen at Mercy Medical Center on Thursday, June 9, 2016.
The newly installed 3-D mammography machine is seen at Mercy Medical Center on Thursday, June 9, 2016.

Women in Merced soon will no longer need to travel to other cities to receive a 3-D mammogram, thanks to a new state-of-the-art imaging machine at Mercy Medical Center.

Carla Kelley, board chair of the Mercy Foundation, said she’s had to go to Modesto to have a 3-D mammogram and is excited to see the community benefit from something they supported and funded.

“The great thing about having this in our community is people don’t have to travel to have this available to them,” Kelley said.

The Mercy Foundation, the nonprofit organization that raises money for Mercy Medical Center, last year dedicated its biannual gala to collecting the funds needed to purchase the 3-D mammography system. In one night, with the theme “La Vie en Rose,” the gala raised more than $410,000, enough to cover the costs of the machine. All of the grants and sponsorships came from the local community.

“It’s the most successful gala we’ve ever had,” Kelley said.

The system is now in place at Mercy and will be ready for patients’ use in early August, once state authorities sign off on required paperwork, said Anthony Cordeiro, director of imaging services at Mercy Medical Center.

Before the 3-D mammography machine, there was a 2-D machine that was sufficient, but the images weren’t as clear, specific or accurate. With the 3-D images, physicians will be able to see the breast layer by layer, diminishing the chance of missing something that could be a tumor.

“We’ll be able to look at it (3-D mammograms) like turning pages of a book, ” Cordeiro said.

Being able to see each individual layer of the breast will allow anything hiding beneath dense tissue to be seen, said Dr. Mark Wagner, medical director of imaging at Mercy Medical Center.

“We want whatever might be a tumor or a cancer in a breast to stand out from other tissue as much as possible,” Wagner said.

The new 3-D technology is a big step when it comes to differentiating what is being seen in mammograms, Wagner said, helping to see tumors or cancer at an earlier stage.

“The 3-D method is another attempt of solving the problem of dense breasts,” Wagner said.

Younger breasts are more dense, naturally losing density as they age, Wagner said. Breast density has been a problem because it is harder to detect abnormalities through scans.

“It (3-D images) will allow us to find more cancers more easily,” Wagner said.

Wagner has been reading mammograms for 30 years and advises women who are 40 to start receiving yearly mammograms. Women who have a strong history of breast cancer in their families can even start when their 35.

Dr. Reese Robin, lead mammography technician at Mercy Medical Center, said having a family history of breast cancer doesn’t automatically mean everyone in the family will have it too; the risk factor is just higher.

“The key is finding it (cancer) at the earliest and most curable stage,” Robin said.

Some warning signs to look for are lumps in the breast and blood leaking from the nipple, situations in which Wagner suggests being checked out as soon as possible.

Having clearer images to work with could save a woman from removing an entire breast, because cancer or tumors caught at earlier stages have the chance to be completely removed, Robin said.

“It’s an important offering to our community,” Kelley said.

Capturing more data and images using 3-D imagery will reduce the chances of patients returning for additional views, Robin said.

Wagner said the images will allow doctors to be more certain of negative results.

“Something I’m really, really proud of is how much our physicians care,” Cordeiro said. “You can tell the passion they have.”