By Joyce Reingold
In fall 2017, Paula Henderson, special events and communications director for the Bethesda Hospital Foundation, met with Dr. Carol A. Adami, medical director of the Bethesda Women’s Health Center, to find out what was on her wish list.
The 63rd annual Bethesda Ball was in the planning stages and Marti LaTour, who was co-chairing the gala with George Elmore, wanted the event’s proceeds to fund a vital piece of equipment for the Boynton Beach-based women’s health center.
Adami’s recommendation? The Hologic Selenia Dimensions 3-D mammography unit and breast biopsy system, technology the FDA had just recently approved. Bethesda was the first in Palm Beach County to offer 3-D mammography, Adami said, and with this new unit would be among the first to add biopsy capabilities.
“The 3-D stereotactic biopsy unit allows radiologists to perform needle biopsies on cancers in the earliest stage, even before they are detectable on 2-D mammograms or ultrasound,” explained Adami, a board-certified radiologist who has been the center’s medical director since 2004.
The March 2018 gala raised almost $700,000, and the Bethesda Women’s Health Center got its cutting-edge machine. With a slightly looser schedule now that the major fundraising events for the season were over, Henderson, 46, made time for her annual doctor’s appointments.
Her personal visit to the women’s health center brought unsettling news. A mammogram performed on the 3-D unit yielded a suspicious result. “I remember Dr. Adami zoomed in and showed me a nodule that worried her. It looked like it had branches that came off it,” she said.
“It was a shock and not a shock,” said Henderson, who has had annual mammograms since she was 35 because her family has a history of breast cancer. “I have been very religious about doing them. My mom is a breast cancer survivor, and her sister did not survive it. I was very aware that the possibility was always there.”
Further tests, including two biopsies and an MRI, confirmed it was cancer. Last fall, Henderson had surgery, radiation and began an anticancer medication she’ll take for at least five years. Her prognosis is excellent, with a more than 95 percent survival rate. “Now I understand personally how important it is to have the best technology,” Henderson said. “If I’d had a regular mammogram, they wouldn’t have found it for another year. Catching it early is what made all the difference.”
The 3-D technology is such a vast improvement over the 2-D that “I can’t even describe how much better,” Adami said. “It finds cancers so much earlier and it’s easier to detect them. We also have about a 25 percent reduction in callback rate.
“In a 2-D mammogram, overlapping fibroglandular tissue can mimic a tumor. With a 3-D mammogram, we’re able to take apart the tissue layers to see whether this is a true mass or a pseudomass,” Adami said.
Here’s how it works: “The 3-D mammogram is a digital reconstruction by the computer. Instead of just taking one flat photograph, the X-ray tube sweeps across the breast in an arc, taking multiple images of the breast,” she said. “The computer reconstructs the X-ray image, like a CAT scan. Then we can scroll through the breast slice by slice, separating out layers of the tissue. We can identify cancers by distortion in tissue architecture even before a mass is visible.”
Adami said the center offers 3-D mammography to all of its patients. Medicare now covers the 3-D screening, and many other insurance companies have followed suit.
Henderson said she thinks back to first hearing Adami talk about the need for the 3-D mammography and breast biopsy system. “I didn’t realize it would become so personal. I’m so glad we had this technology to find this so early.”
“Finding the cancer sooner is always better,” Adami said.
Henderson worked through her treatment, missing just two and a half days for surgery. Despite feeling some fatigue during radiation, she said working was good medicine.
“Going to the hospital every day, to raise money for the important things we do, gave me even more encouragement.”
Henderson said she is not usually a “self-promoter,” but her story serves to remind women who may have forgotten to schedule, or skipped, a mammogram.
“Many of my friends immediately scheduled their 3-D mammograms locally and out of state,” she said.
“As women, we get busy, neglect ourselves, and let things slip off our calendar to do things for others. We can’t do that. We have to take care of ourselves.”
Joyce Reingold has a lifelong interest in health and healthy living. Send column ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.