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Smaller Is Better: 3D Mammography Catches ‘Cancer Lite’

Patient Stories, Body, Breast Cancer Awareness, Women's Health

When Vivian Robertson got a call about something irregular on her annual screening mammogram, she wasn’t too concerned. She knew callbacks were common.

Using 3D mammography, the Adventist Health Portland radiology team found tiny spots of calcification impossible to feel during a physical exam. The spots were so small, radiologist Dr. Robert Scott Israel asked Vivian to come back in a few months to see if they grew.

“I almost blew it off,” Vivian admits. But eight months later, she had another 3D mammogram. The spots had indeed grown, from about 4 millimeters to 6. The spots also had some irregularities that concerned Dr. Israel, who scheduled her for a needle biopsy.

Vivian describes the biopsy as “totally painless.” The results came back quickly: She did, indeed, have cancer.

Dr. Israel sent Vivian to see Dr. Frances Ting, a breast surgery specialist at Adventist Health Portland, to have the tiny cancer removed. “She was just a sweetheart,” Vivian remembers. “Dr. Ting said she wasn’t worried because the cancer was so small and caught so early.”

I hadn’t seen anything. I hadn’t felt anything. From the stories I’ve heard and my own experience, this wouldn’t have been felt with a professional exam. Mammogram was the key, and the fact that it was 3D caught it a lot smaller.

- Vivian Robertson

Before surgery, Dr. Ting personally introduced Vivian to the entire surgical team. “Everyone in this room is here for you,” she told Vivian, “We are here to do nothing but take care of you.”

With such tiny tumors, Vivian’s cancer was removed with clear margins and no sign of spread. Vivian didn’t have to have radiation or chemotherapy. “I’m very fortunate it was small and caught early,” she reports. “It’s very tuned in to estrogen and progesterone. I just have to take an oral medication that blocks the cells from getting those hormones.”

Vivian has a strong family history of breast cancer, so she was always careful to do self-exams as well as schedule her annual screenings. But she credits 3D mammography with catching her cancer early. She feels fortunate to avoid much more advanced disease than her mother, aunt and other relatives have faced.

“I hadn’t seen anything. I hadn’t felt anything,” she says. “From the stories I’ve heard and my own experience, this wouldn’t have been felt with a professional exam. Mammogram was the key, and the fact that it was 3D caught it a lot smaller.”

Adventist Health Portland is able to provide 3D mammography thanks to fundraising by the Adventist Health Portland Foundation. “I’m very grateful to the foundation and whomever looks for the newer, better thing that comes along,” Vivian says. “It’s the difference between a speed bump on a road and a sink hole. I got diagnosed with ‘cancer lite’ thanks to 3D mammography.”