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A history of breast cancer screenings

Mammography technology has improved over the years

Before hospitals such as Augusta Health could offer state-of-the-art mammograms with digital and 3-D mammography, it took a century for breast cancer detection technology to evolve.

It began in 1913, when German doctor Dr. Albert Salomon first posited that X-ray technology could be used to detect cancerous tumors in the breast. Although his research was promising, the technique at the time was crude, and it wasn’t confirmed to be a useful way of detecting breast cancer until almost two decades later, when Dr. Stafford L. Warren published the first reliable data on the topic.

Even with Dr. Warren’s data, it took until the 1950s for the subject to be researched significantly, at least partly because the X-ray technology was still not very precise. The 1950s saw the publication of multiple encouraging studies, which led to a landmark study published by Dr. Robert L. Egan in 1960 that detailed Dr. Egan’s new technique, which produced mammograms of a quality that was previously unattainable.

Modernizing the mammogram

Dr. Egan’s 1960 paper sparked interest in mammography, and by the end of the decade, what is known as modern mammography — with X-ray units that compress the breast and produce an image on film — was available. Throughout the next two decades and into the 1990s, research on mammography continued, and the process
was refined.

Advancements included faster imaging, lowered radiation doses and better imaging, which made it easier for doctors to detect cancerous tumors. During this period, mammography also became more common as its effectiveness in detecting breast cancer was further studied and proved to reduce mortality. In 1992, the Mammography Quality Standards Act created regulatory standards for mammography, ensuring communication across all providers and that patients receive consistent readings.

Mammography today

In 2000, the first step toward current mammography technology was taken when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first digital mammography system. Digital mammography allows doctors to view a computerized file, which offers a higher-quality image that can be enhanced or magnified easily. Digital mammography also provides the benefit of a lower radiation dose compared to traditional, film-based mammography.

More recently, hospitals like Augusta Health have begun to offer tomosynthesis, or 3-D mammography, which provides doctors with a layered image of the breast, making it even easier to detect cancerous tumors — particularly in women with dense breast tissue — and reducing callbacks for follow-up imaging.

Augusta Health began offering 3-D mammography in July 2014, and that same year a study found that the technology detects significantly more invasive cancers when compared with traditional mammography. While this data is encouraging, that doesn’t mean a 3-D mammogram is right or necessary for everyone. If you’re considering whether to get a digital 2-D mammogram or a 3-D mammogram, the best course of action is to talk with your doctor about which type is right for you.

Significant accreditation

The Augusta Health Breast Health Program is the first hospital in the region to receive full accreditation from the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers (NAPBC). Accreditation is granted only to those centers that undergo a rigorous evaluation and review of performance and compliance with 27 evidence-based standards of care covering 17 components of care.

NAPBC accreditation is awarded to centers who take a multidisciplinary, team-oriented approach to breast cancer care. Augusta Health creates a customized plan for each patient, which creates a symbiotic process for treatment.

Augusta Health offers digital mammography at three convenient locations: Augusta Health Women’s Imaging Center in Fishersville, Stuart’s Draft Outpatient Center/Urgent Care in Stuart’s Draft and Staunton Outpatient Center/Urgent Care. For more information, visit augustahealth.com/womens-imaging.