Dense glandular tissue can obscure developing tumors and delay detection of breast cancer in some women, but Mercy Medical Center will take a step toward eliminating the problem with a new system that arrives in April.
Dr. Conellia Ha, Mercy’s director of radiology, flanked by colleagues and breast cancer survivors Wednesday, said the new method of detecting tumors — molecular breast imaging — will be the first such system in the state.
It is to be used as a secondary or diagnostic tool in addition to mammography. The aim is to detect difficult-to-spot tumors in women — and men — with dense glandular tissue or breast abnormalities that otherwise would not be seen using current machines.
“The goal is that we want to find these tumors so women can stop dying of breast cancer. This is going to change the way we diagnose it,” Ha said Wednesday during a news conference in the McCann Building on Mercy’s campus in Rockville Centre.
Long Island women — for reasons beyond age and other demographic factors — have one of the highest rates of breast cancer in the country, epidemiological studies have shown.
Patients who undergo screening through molecular breast imaging are first injected with a tracer, technicium-99m — a widely used short-acting radiopharmaceutical that is administered in an very low dose, Ha said.
Special imaging technology, which requires mild breast compression, then scans the tissue. The scanner resembles a mammography machine.
Ha said she had been sending patients with difficult-to-interpret mammograms to Connecticut for screening via molecular breast imaging because no centers on Long Island or in New York City had one.
Rechilda Icmat, 44, of Franklin Square said she was grateful that Ha sent her to Connecticut because the diagnostic system flagged a tumor that otherwise could not be seen.
“It is better than a mammogram,” Icmat said, noting that the amount of compression is far less than with standard mammography.
Geri Barish, president of the Long Island Breast Cancer Action Coalition said she was pleased that Mercy would soon be using the system because it would help those women whose cancers were not diagnosed until they had reached significant size. Such tumors are life threatening, Barish said.
“I am so thrilled that women, young women especially, will be able to have this,” said Barish, a long-term breast cancer survivor. She was diagnosed in 1986.
Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association earlier this month revealed that women with dense glandular tissue, rather than fat, have an amplified risk of breast cancer that exceeds the impact of other key factors.
Dense tissue, according to scientists at the University of California, San Francisco who wrote the report, posed a greater overall risk than a family history of breast cancer, personal history of benign lesions and first full-term pregnancy after age 30.
Ha said she and her colleagues would still screen women with 3-D mammography and MRI, but adding molecular breast imaging would help them find the kinds of tumors that evade the best standard technology.