Q&A with Nikki Gast: Why Baptist Hospitals Have Embraced 3D Mammography

In recent years, Baptist has invested in offering 3D mammograms for patients. Nikki Gast, administrative director of Baptist Women’s Health Center, talked with us about why 3D mammograms are the future of breast cancer detection.

What is the difference between 3D and 2D mammograms?

In 2D imaging, our radiologists see only two-dimensional images.

In 3D, they take additional mammogram images to create a three-dimensional look at the breast. Our radiologists can look through the tissue in the breast, similar to looking at a book and flipping page by page to see everything inside it.

3D mammograms take a few seconds longer than 2D and there’s a slightly larger amount of radiation exposure, but still well within safe levels.

Why is the move to 3D technology important for patients?

It can help detect breast cancers sooner and reduce a patient’s likelihood of being called back for additional imaging. Our radiologists highly recommend 3D imaging as a superior level of care and for all patients with dense breast tissue. Breast density puts women at greater risk for breast cancer, and there is no way to know about breast density without a mammogram. With 3D images, our radiologists can dive deeper into the breast tissue to identify areas for follow up that may not be seen otherwise.

Do radiologists and doctors prefer 3D mammograms?

Our radiologists highly recommend 3D mammography. 3D images result in fewer callbacks for additional imaging and earlier diagnosis of breast cancer.

When will all Baptist hospitals have 3D technology for mammograms?

Most Baptist hospitals now have 3D mammography. There is only one hospital without 3D, but that will change as we upgrade equipment.

Patients now receive 3D mammograms unless they opt out to receive 2D instead. Is there any reason a patient might prefer 2D?

I believe the biggest barrier comes down to cost for patients. Most insurances cover 3D imaging, but not all insurance plans cover the 3D add on as part of an annual screening. With the Affordable Care Act, insurances cover women’s preventive care, including screening mammography, at no cost to patients. The 3D add-on charge may be applied toward the patient’s deductible, so for some patients that’s an out-of-pocket expense.

For Baptist team members, there’s no out-of-pocket charge as 3D is covered completely with our plan.

Are many women reluctant to receive any type of mammogram?

We do have a population of patients who are reluctant to come in for screening mammography. Sometimes it’s about lack of access, fear or a concern about the cost. We heavily educate on our grant funding to make patients aware cost is not a reason to not come in for screening. We utilize our mobile mammography unit, which has 3D technology, to take care directly to where patients are, so access is not an issue. With our grant patients, who are underinsured or uninsured, 3D mammography is completely covered.

Others may be reluctant or busy and don’t prioritize getting a mammogram. Taking time off work can be a deterrent. To help with that, we have community partners who invite us to take the mobile mammogram unit to businesses. That enables women to get their mammograms where they work in about 20 minutes.

Do you have anything you’d like to add?

We want to make sure patients know about 3D mammography ahead of time so they can do research. We feel strongly about 3D mammograms because they provide a superior level of care for screening mammography. Our hope is that we can detect any potential breast issues earlier, and early detection means increased survival from breast cancer.