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Williamsville radiologist helps bring clarity to breast health

Radiologist Anna Chen has wanted to be a doctor ever since she was a girl growing up in Williamsville. It helps when your dad is a doctor, as is James Chen, who also taught at the University at Buffalo Medical School before he retired last fall.

“He used to be very active in training residents,” she said, “so I got exposed to all the surgical movies at our house super early as a child.”

The younger Chen – a graduate of Cornell University and the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine – marked her 10th anniversary this year with Windsong Radiology Group, where she is director of women’s imaging. She and her husband, Kelvin Chen, returned to Williamsville a decade ago after landing jobs and starting a family in Washington, D.C.

“My office was 11 miles from the house there. It took me two hours to get home. We came back here and we were home in five minutes,” said Chen, 44.

Dr. Janet Sung, who founded Windsong in 1987, is among Chen’s mentors. The company started by specializing in women’s imaging. It has since morphed into a full-service diagnostic and imaging group, with locations in Amherst, Hamburg, Lancaster, West Seneca and Williamsville. Its Comprehensive Breast Care program continues to be a centerpiece.

The women’s imaging center headquarters in Williamsville recently added a new tool to its diagnostic repertoire – 3-D mammography, which provides clearer images that find up to 40 percent more cancers and eliminate about the same percentage of false positive mammogram screenings, Chen said.

How many mammograms do you do on a daily basis?

Throughout all of our locations, we probably do about 300 to 350 screening mammograms a day. Dr. Sung pioneered our process. We give every patient coming in the screening results as soon as we get them. That’s something a lot of facilities are starting to do now because patients want to know what their results are right away.

After that initial screening, what do you say when something doesn’t look quite right?

What I typically say is “Something looks a little different from your previous studies and it could be concerning.” Then I tell them what I want to do. Sometimes it’s more mammogram pictures. Sometimes it’s more mammogram and ultrasound study. Once they’re done with all their additional pictures, we sit down with them and show them their imaging. They may not always understand, but I think they get a better grasp.

I’m very honest with my patients. I let them know if I see something that’s concerning. It’s something we have to figure out what it is, but most of the time the growths end up being benign, so I don’t want people to think that if you have to have a biopsy, you have cancer. Two-thirds of biopsies come back benign.

What standards do you recommend when it comes to women and mammograms?

A baseline mammogram at the age of 35 and yearly screening mammograms once you turn 40, as an overall for the general population. For high-risk women, it gets more complicated. There’s a push to individualize imaging based on risk status. Women who are at high risk – who have the breast cancer gene, BRCA1, BRCA2 – it is recommended they have mammograms yearly as well as MRIs, because every test picks up something a little different. Mammograms are considered the gold standard, the only test shown to decrease mortality from breast cancer.

What about the BRCA tests? Do you recommend them?

We don’t do them here. We know Women’s & Children’s does. When people ask me, I tell them that’s a very individual thought process. You have to decide: “What am I going to do with that information if I have it?” If people have a strong family history, I think it’s within their rights to talk with a genetic counselor.

What other steps should women take when it comes to breast health, cancer prevention and protection?

One of their doctors should be doing a physical exam on them once a year. It was controversial that patients should be doing a self-breast exam but I think … once you’re in your 30s, you should be doing a self-breast exam after your menstrual cycle, just to get to know what the normal lumps and bumps in your breast feel like.

Talk about your 3-D mammography.

Right now, we’re really focusing more on people who have dense breast tissue or are at high risk, telling them about the additional screening benefits of tomosynthesis. Patients usually don’t notice a difference because it’s done at the same time as their regular compression. Images last maybe 4 seconds longer. How it helps us is the machine takes a little sweep – an arc 15 degrees forward and 15 degrees back – and the computer generates 1-millimeter slices through the breast for us to look at. When you see a 2-D image, everything’s kind of superimposed on top of one another. With the 3-D image, it’s kind of like the pages of a book that you can flip through layer by layer and look at the tissue that way, in the hope of seeing something that might be hiding in the dense breast tissue.

email: refresh@buffnews.com

On the Web: Read more about 3-D mammography, diagnostics and breast imaging patient navigators at refresh.buffalonews.com