Breast Mammograms in 3D in Southwest

Breast Care for Washington brings 3D Mammograms to Ward 8

3D mammography improves accuracy and detects cancer earlier. Photo: Hologic Inc.

When ANC 8D Commissioner Monique Diop needed to have a mammogram she called a hospital in Northwest DC to schedule an appointment. The first opening they had was four weeks out. Not acceptable for woman who is 42 years old, has a history of breast cancer in her family, and has recently discovered a lump in her breast. “Someone told me to call Breast Care for Washington. So I did and they scheduled me for the following week.” 

Her appointment entailed a 3D breast exam and an ultrasound because they detected a lump. The lump turned out to be an infection and is gone now. She was relieved. But what made the process more tolerable to Diop was the service she received at Breast Care for Washington. “I was very surprised that we had such great service over here in Southeast. It was very clean and thorough. The people were very nice. The follow-up was nice. They explained the entire process from beginning to end. I will never go to that other hospital again.”

3D mammography is the latest in breast cancer screenings. It was designed to give a more in-depth picture of breast tissue. But insurance companies are reluctant to cover the cost in spite of its ability to more accurately detect cancer and reduce the number of callbacks. 

Incidence vs. Death Rates

The incidence and mortality rates for breast cancer in 2001 were disproportionately high among the District’s blacks and Hispanics. More than a decade later the rates remain high. According to the DC Cancer Control Plan, the barriers that keep the rates elevated include lack of access of medical homes, inadequate distribution of screening facilities, and lack of culturally sensitive care. Although the District has reduced the mortality rate for breast cancer by 10 percent from the 2000 baseline rate and enjoyed increased health insurance coverage, individual wards still struggle with their rates. Ward 5 has the highest rate of female breast cancer deaths, followed by Ward 8 and Ward 7.  

The disparity is more visible in the death rates among breast cancer patients. Although white females in the District are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer, African-American women are more likely to die from breast cancer. Late diagnosis, fear, lack of awareness, and financial barriers all pay a part in the elevated mortality rates. 

One of the goals of the DC Cancer Control Plan is to reduce the breast cancer mortality rate by increasing early detection. Breast Care for Washington, located inside Community of Hope on Atlantic Street SW, opened in 2014 to provide comprehensive care, education, and the latest technology for detection.

3D Mammography 

Why is 3D mammography the preferred choice? Simply put, dense breast tissue is harder to scan. According to the American Association for Cancer Research, African-American women are more likely to have denser breast tissue than their white counterparts. Additionally, the Radiological Society of North America released results from a study on 3D mammography and dense breasts. The study found that digital breast tomosynthesis (aka 3D mammograms) detected 80 percent of the 132 cancers in women who were involved in the study. 

Beth Beck, co-founder and president/CEO of Breast Care for Washington, says 3D mammography helps give more accurate views of breast tissue. “3D mammography has been found to detect cancers at an earlier stage. The difference between a 3D and 2D mammogram is that the radiologist can actually see the abnormality much earlier. It also reduces the times we have to bring a woman back in for additional imaging. For example, if the doctor finds something and it looks a little funny the 3D can zoom in on that area. In many ways it reduces the call back that so many women get and fear.” Early detection is the key to stopping cancer before it spreads.  

So far the feedback has been positive. Diop explains that the process took approximately two hours due to her ultrasound but was worth the peace of mind. Does the 3D machine hurt? “The machine did not hurt. They put some pressure on you but it did not hurt,” she says joyfully. Beck adds that more residents like Diop are starting to see the advantage of having a state-of-the-art mammography machine in their backyard. “Once they realize what we have they enjoy it. We've had patients contact us because they heard we have 3D mammography on site and they don't have to travel to Northwest to get it. So that has made our services stand out from the rest.”

Insurance Coverage

In January 2015 Medicare payment rates for screening and diagnostic 3D mammography went into effect. Diop, along with 87 percent of Breast Care for Washington’s clients, relies on Medicaid/Medicare to pay for healthcare costs, so this will alleviate another barrier to care. Private insurance still has a way to go, but Beck believes they will eventually cover the cost as well. “The fact that they [Medicare] are paying for these exams makes me think we're going to see more of the commercial insurers follow suit. There is an enhanced cost for this exam but it's definitely worth it to detect the cancer earlier.” For now potential clients with private insurance should contact their carrier before scheduling an appointment, to see if they are covered for 3D mammograms.  

Getting ahead of breast cancer through early screenings, education, and access to quality care is a surefire way to reduce disparities and mortality rates. Breast Care for Washington is on the forefront of that fight, chipping away at the numbers one patient at a time.
For more information about Breast Care for Washington or to make an appointment visit or call 202-465-7164. 

Candace Y.A. Montague is the health reporter for Capital Community News.

Four myths about mammograms from the US Food and Drug Administration:

  • Myth: Mammograms cause cancer. Fact: Mammograms use very small doses of radiation. The risk of harm is very low.          
  • Myth: Mammograms aren't necessary. Fact: Mammograms can help doctors detect breast cancer early. Early screenings increase a woman's chance of survival if the cancer is caught in time.
  • Myth: Mammograms are painful. Fact: People's thresholds for pain vary. However women report discomfort, not necessarily pain, when they go through the compression part of the exam.
  • Myth: Mammograms are inaccurate. Fact: Overall, when cancer is present it is detected nearly 80 percent of the time thanks to early screening. 

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