YORK, GENEVA and HENDERSON -- It is likely that cancer – including breast cancer – has plagued humankind from the beginning; fortunately detection has progressed leaps and bounds.
The earliest recorded description of breast cancer comes from Egyptian records dating from about 1600 B.C. Skeletal remains from centuries earlier have indicated the presence of breast cancer. Before early detection and screening came into being, breast cancer was diagnosed with the naked eye.
The ancient Egyptians prayed to the gods and performed religious rites in efforts to cure cancer. Other “treatments” ranged from salves to cauterization.
In the mid-1700s, French surgeon Henri François Le Dran was one of the first to practice surgically removing tumors, postulating the early stages of cancer were localized. However, he concluded, it could spread to other parts of the body, so the tumor should be removed as soon as possible. Le Dran and several other surgeons of the period performed the earliest form of mastectomy.
A nod to Le Dran’s theory, early detection became even more paramount. The first breast radiographs were attempted in the 1920s and 1930s, but provided poor image quality.
Even with the lukewarm reception to early breast radiographs, scientists remained optimistic about the possibilities imaging held.
If only they knew.
The benefits of regular screenings were revealed in the 1970s using direct-exposure film. Today, many hospitals perform 3D mammograms. York General, Henderson Health Care and Fillmore County Hospital all offer this state-of-the-art means of detection.
While 2D mammograms are still implemented and serve a purpose, there are differences between the two generations of mammograms.
Conventional 2D mammography takes images of overlapping tissue; because of this small breast cancers may be missed and normal tissue may appear abnormal.
“2D takes one image,” explained Jo Burnham, director of Radiology Services at York General Hospital. “3D takes multiple images. It’s easier for us to find things that hide.”
Mammograms in 3D can be likened to a loaf of bread; each image represents a “slice” of the breast, making it easier to detect abnormalities – particularly in dense breast tissue.
While the breasts remain compressed, the imaging device swivels around, getting multiple rapid-fire scans from all directions.
Flattening the breasts results in a clearer image, and discomfort lasts but a short time. York General and Fillmore County Hospital recently acquired a curved plate for use in mammograms, which decreases a patient’s discomfort while still offering high-quality images.
Ultrasounds can also be utilized, showing whether the growth is filled with fluid (cyst) or is solid (cancer).
“Our main tools are mammograms, ultrasounds and MRIs, depending on the radiologist’s recommendation,” Burnham said.
Burnham said with modern technology, it’s possible to detect cancer years before a tumor is palpable. “We are making great strides.”