Cindy’s Story: 3-D mammogram leads to breast cancer diagnosis

In March 2014, Cindy Kuechenmeister, age 57, of West Chester, set out on the four-mile walking trail behind her house to enjoy the spring foliage. While Cindy had walked the trail effortlessly many times before, this time she only made it a few yards. After being diagnosed with breast cancer in the fall of 2013, she had endured radiation, surgery and the grueling emotional pain that comes with a serious illness. Still, Cindy was thankful to be able to walk the trail a short distance that March. Without the doctors and technology at West Chester Hospital, she may not have survived to walk the trail at all.

Cindy’s Story: When Cindy’s 3-D mammogram showed signs of breast cancer, she didn’t want to believe the news.

When Cindy’s 3-D mammogram showed signs of breast cancer, she didn’t want to believe the news.

In September of 2013, Cindy had a 3-D mammogram at West Chester Hospital. Her doctor, Amy Argus, MD, medical director of breast imaging at West Chester Hospital and assistant professor of radiology for the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, identified a small mass in her breast. At first, Cindy refused to believe it might be cancer. “That was me being hardheaded,” says Cindy.

But Dr. Argus was persistent. She told Cindy to take the test results seriously and remained in contact with her to ensure that she had further testing. A biopsy two days later revealed that Cindy did indeed have breast cancer.

“That mammogram saved my life,” Cindy says. “If I’d waited until I was able to feel the lump, it would have been too late.” The advanced mammography technology at West Chester Hospital that saved Cindy’s life is able to take both traditional two-dimensional images as well as three-dimensional images. The 2-D mammogram produces a single “flat” image of the breast, while the 3-D mammogram produces multiple thin sequential images of the breast. A computer algorithm reconstructs these images so that the radiologist can view all of the breast tissue in one-millimeter slices.

This multi-dimensional capability embodies an important technological advance, one that physicians like Dr. Argus are using to better diagnose breast cancer in patients like Cindy.

“Traditional mammography has been proven to decrease the number of deaths that occur from breast cancer. The new 3-D technology improves the performance of mammography. The 3-D images help us see cancers on mammograms that we might not be able to see with traditional 2-D images alone. Also, breast tissue can sometimes overlap and obscure masses or make it seem like there is a mass there when there isn’t one,” says Dr. Argus. “By being able to view thin slices of the breast, we are able to see masses and other signs of cancer better, as well as to differentiate overlapping tissues from a real mass. That decreases the number of false positives that can occur.”

The patient’s experience during a 3-D mammogram is virtually indistinguishable from that of a 2-D mammogram. The breast is positioned and scanned in the same manner with the same mammography equipment used. The combination of the two scans has been shown to increase cancer detection.

Mammograms are an integral first step in screening for breast cancer. Some women might avoid having a mammogram, says Dr. Argus, because they have anxiety about what the test might show. “I encourage women not to be fearful, but to be empowered and proactive and to take control of their health. One in eight women will get breast cancer in their lifetime, and early detection is critically important. Screening mammograms help detect cancer early, and we know that they decrease the breast cancer death rate.”

“Everyone should have a mammogram,” says Cindy. “It’s really important, whether you think you need one or not.” Cindy is an example of the positive outcomes that can result when a screening mammogram catches breast cancer early. She has been free of cancer for more than a year, since her radiation concluded in December of 2013.

Some months later, she set out on that walking trail behind her house. “I walk the whole trail twice now. And I ride my bike on it, too. I just like to get out and see the ducks, the geese, the water and the trees.”

While Cindy’s voice trembles when she mentions the cancer, today she is enjoying life with her husband, Mike, and is truly happy and thankful to be alive. Thanks to the advanced technology and the expertise of physician specialists at West Chester Hospital, she’s back on the trail again.

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2015 edition of West Chester Hospital’s Discover Health.

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