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How 3-D mammograms are helping catch breast cancer early: ‘Survival is directly linked to tumor size’

RICHMOND, Va. -- Marilyn Bray has never missed an annual mammogram, so the results of a screening two years ago were devastating.

Doctors found three tumors and two different types of cancer in both of Bray’s breasts.

“Time stopped, it stood still for a moment,” Bray says. “I don’t think anybody expects to hear the words, 'You have cancer.’ It caught me off guard.”

Dr. Nicole Kelleher, who serves as the Director of Breast Imaging at Johnston Willis Hospital, says a 3-D mammogram helped catch Bray’s cancer in the early stages.

A follow-up ultrasound and MRI confirmed that the cancer, which showed no signs or symptoms, was in more than one place.

A 3-D mammogram is an imaging test that combines multiple breast X-rays to create a three-dimensional picture of the breast.

“It does for us what 2-D couldn’t do,” Kelleher says. “It allows us to actually scroll through the slices of the breast tissue and separate out the tissue planes, and any cancers that might be hiding amongst those tissue planes are separated out and we’re able to see them more clearly.”

3-D mammograms are helping radiologists detect cancer in patients who have no signs or symptoms. They can also be used to determine the cause of breast problems- such a breast mass, pain and nipple discharge. The mammograms not only help reduce the need for follow-up imaging but improves breast cancer detection in dense breast tissue.

“The whole goal of screening mammograms is to find cancers when they are a centimeter in size or smaller, because survival is directly linked to tumor size at the time of diagnosis,” Kelleher says.

Bray immediately started chemotherapy and radiation to treat her cancer.

She says having support during treatment was very important to her, since she is the only caregiver for a younger brother with special needs. Bray says Kelleher and her team kept her informed every step of her journey.

“You can ask a question and they are so helpful and very caring and compassionate,” Bray says. “Just such a positive environment at a very vulnerable time for us patients.”

Bray has since written a book, hoping to inspire others to take the time to get screened.

“Find a support system to help you get there,” Bray says. “It’s imperative that we take care of ourselves because the consequences are harsh.”

Working For Your Health is a partnership with HCA Healthcare. Serving the greater Richmond area, Chippenham, Henrico Doctors’, Johnston-Willis, Parham Doctors’, and Retreat Doctors’ Hospital are part of HCA Virginia. Watch for Working For Your Health reports Tuesdays on CBS 6 News at 7 p.m.

Watch for Working For Your Health reports on CBS 6.

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