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A Closer Look

A new camera that "sees" cell metabolism will help physicians make better diagnoses for women who may have early-stage breast cancer.

Providence Medford Medical Center has acquired a Dilon 6800 "gamma imaging" camera that can uncover cancers that might not be detected by other screening methods.

Traditional mammograms use X-rays to create an image of breast tissue. The Dilon camera utilizes a radioactive tracer to identify breast cells that have a higher metabolic rate associated with cancer.

Physicians will use the Dilon camera for women who have a suspicious mammogram, said Amy McCormick, Providence breast center manager.

"It's another tool we can use to determine whether there's a cancer," McCormick said.

Mammograms are the standard screening tool for breast cancer, but as many as 10 percent of the images each year are false positives, which can be caused by abnormal, nonmalignant breast tissue, such as scars. The new camera will help clarify many of the false positives, said Erin Kieper, president of Luna Medical, who came to Medford to train Providence staff on the camera.

"If there's a negative scan (with the new camera), we have 95 to 98 percent certainty (that the results are accurate)," Kieper said.

McCormick said the camera also will be useful for women who have a palpable abnormality that can't be seen with mammography or ultrasound, another cancer-screening tool.

"Fifteen percent of cancers aren't picked up by mammography," she said. "This gives us somewhere else to go (for a diagnosis)."

In the past, women with suspicious mammograms were often scanned with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Kieper said the Dilon image is more accurate than an MRI and costs about one-third as much — about $850 compared with $2,500 to $2,800. Most health insurance covers the exam, she said.

The Dilon camera compresses the breast much like an ordinary mammogram (although with somewhat less pressure), so physicians are looking at an image of breast tissue displayed in the same plane, Kieper said. That helps them correlate what they see with X-ray images.

Before screening, patients are injected with a radioactive tracer that is absorbed by all cells in the body. Cancerous cells absorb more of the dye than normal cells, and the malignant cells stand out on the image.

"It's looking at the mitochondria (the part of the cell that produces energy)," Kieper said.

She noted the camera also works well for dense breast tissue.

"It helps you find things that are hiding," she said.

The plate that holds the breast can be moved to determine whether cancer has spread to lymph nodes. The camera also offers a new diagnostic option for women who can't have an MRI.

The exam takes about an hour, compared to around 20 minutes for a mammogram. Federal regulators approved the technology in 2004. There are about 130 such cameras being used in the United States. Previously, Rogue Valley patients would have to travel to Portland, Los Angeles or Seattle to be scanned with a Dilon camera.

Because of the cost, only women who have a suspicious mammogram will be referred to the Dilon camera. McCormick said she expects Providence will screen about 125 women per year.

Funds from Providence's annual Festival of Trees fundraising event were dedicated to purchasing the camera.

"We're so grateful the community came out to support it," McCormick said.

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail bkettler@mailtribune.com.

Dilon Diagnostics company representative Erin Kieper, left, and Providence Breast Center manager Amy McCormick explain how the new Dilon Camera will add another tool for detecting breast cancer. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Jim Craven