Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Camera improves cancer detection

August 9, 2001

For $400, the average gadget guru can buy a digital camera suitable for holiday snapshots and family portraits.

For around $400,000, MSU’s Department of Radiology bought a digital camera made to save lives.

The camera is actually a digital mammography unit, which allows doctors to take a snapshot of all areas of the breast.

“You record images and download them,” said Arlene Sierra, director of clinical services for the department. “It’s still using the same X-radiation, and the machine looks the same, but the ability is so much better.”

The unit has a wider dynamic range for a more complete picture, and eliminates the need for film. Doctors can immediately identify problem areas in a mammogram with photo manipulation.

While doctors hope the new machine will help cut down on the number of advanced breast cancer cases, the test time has been cut down too.

A standard mammogram takes 12 minutes, while a mammogram with the new machine takes only four minutes.

“When you use new technology and you see the differences, you don’t want to be without it,” Sierra said. “We can see things very differently now.”

James Potchen, chairman of MSU’s Department of Radiology, said he expects the new mammography technique to make a difference in how breast cancer is diagnosed.

“We can test your image right away,” he said. “We know right away what we’ve seen. It cuts down on the time it takes and cuts down on the radiation dose.”

Joann Schellenbach, spokeswoman for the American Cancer Society, said the society has been keeping its eye on the digital revolution since it first came up about five years ago.

But she still worries about cost.

“We’re very eager to see how this pans out,” she said. “We’re always looking for ways to improve, but the jury is still out on whether the additional costs will give comparable additional benefits.

“It is definitely an appropriate use of digital technology.”

While the new technology has received a warm welcome from patients since its installation in June, not all insurers cover the innovation.

But as the machine becomes more common - MSU’s is only the third in the state - Sierra and others expect it to become a financial standard among insurance companies.

“Some women, many women, really believe in this technology and are paying out of pocket for it,” she said. “Some women are very diligent about their mammograms, but we’re not as good as we should be. It’s easy to put it off.

“Sometimes, we’re our own worst enemy.”

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