Big Rig Brings a Big Message

Visit the Prouty "tomo van" to see how new 3-D technology is making breast cancer screening more accurate.

With tomosynthesis, radiologists can distinguish harmless abnormalities from real cancers in 3-D mammograms. Invasive cancers can be detected early, and women experience fewer callbacks for false alarms.

A huge purple and white "big rig" will join the displays on cancer prevention and research this year at The Prouty, the annual fundraiser for the Norris Cotton Cancer Center (NCCC). This giant mobile coach has been touring the country to teach people about digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT), a more accurate breast screening technology that can reduce the anxiety involved in callbacks for false alarms.

The coach recreates what a woman experiences when she goes for a mammogram: inside there is a patient registration area, dressing booths, and staff members to describe how a Hologic tomosynthesis machine is used to screen for breast cancer. Visitors then get to see what happens behind the scenes: using actual 3-D images, Hologic staff explain what radiologists see on their screens. Members from the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) radiology department will also be there to greet Prouty participants and to answer some of the more hands-on questions.

"Many women are initially interested in tomosynthesis because they think they can avoid the breast compression involved with mammograms," said Terri Lorandeau, mammography team leader in the DHMC Department of Radiology. "I explain that tomo is a mammogram, but it gives the radiologist more information. Most women agree that more information is a good thing."

The screening experience is the same, but 3-D images are clearer and cleaner

With DBT, a machine takes multiple exposures across a 15-degree arc, creating a series of images that are reconstructed into a 3-D model on a computer. The images are cleaner and clearer than those from traditional mammograms so using DBT, especially for women with dense breasts, reduces unnecessary callbacks and biopsies. When there is a problem, radiologists are able to detect small cancers earlier, and to make more precise characterizations of breast cancer tumors.

New 3-D technology makes breast cancer screening more accurate

Celebrating ten years of 3-D mammography research

Since 1999 researchers from the Norris Cotton Cancer Center and the Thayer School of Engineering have collaborated with the DHMC radiology team to compare tomosynthesis with other forms of breast-cancer detection. When 3-D mammography was approved by the FDA in 2011, DHMC was the first in the state to use it to screen patients.

"We were among the first in the U.S. to research tomosynthesis technology," says radiologist Steven Poplack, MD, the director of breast imaging at DHMC. "The academic medical center was one of five institutions that conducted clinical trials and contributed data that ultimately lead to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval."


"Tomo van" inspires a radiology department Prouty team

Individual members of the radiology department have participated in the Prouty for years, but when staff learned about plans to bring the tomo van to the event’s cancer education activities, the group wanted to form a team that represented the whole department.

"In recent years members of our department have been treated for cancer," said Brendan Hickey, a radiology nurse and the department’s Prouty team leader. "And each of the seven departments within radiology interact with cancer patients on a daily basis–in fact a significant part of our work involves the diagnosis and/or treatment of cancer in a manner unlike any other department at DH."

"Imaging for Life," currently at 30 members but still growing, includes bikers, runners, golfers and a few rowers. Hickey says the Prouty team effort parallels their daily work as a team, treating and supporting cancer patients. "The ability to work as a team in a social environment to support our staff and patients with cancer is a unique experience that is a privilege to be a part of."

June 17, 2014