HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) – A new type of mammogram at Henrico Doctors’ Hospital’s Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute is helping patients catch breast cancer early — before it has the chance to spread.

Contrast enhanced mammography can detect up to two to three times as many cancers as a regular mammogram, according to the hospital.

Dr. Ryan Gabriel, breast imaging director at Henrico Doctors’ Hospital, said they have a 90% chance of finding breast cancer with the new technology, while with a regular mammogram, they only have a 50% chance of finding breast cancer in women with extremely dense breasts.

When Stephanie O’Neill walked back into Henrico Doctors’ Hospital more than two years after her breast cancer diagnosis, she said she’s lucky to be alive.

“It was very familiar when I walked in the door, it was like a déjà vu,” she said. “I feel fortunate.”

In the summer of 2020, her regular mammogram came back and nothing showed on it. However, when Dr. Gabriel got O’Neill to get the contrast enhanced mammogram, the cancer showed up on the scan as the size of a pea.

“I was just staring at it like, is that, is that real? Is that it?” Dr. Gabriel asked.

Dr. Gabriel is spotting cancer in his patients earlier. He said the new mammogram is different than a regular one, requiring that the patient get an IV placed. Even so, he said it’s worth it for some patients.

“We’ve been detecting more cancers, finding things that we would’ve never seen before,” he said.

O’Neill said the new mammogram was simple, easy and there wasn’t any stress involved in getting the test done.

Dr. Gabriel explained the new technology has been available and approved by the Federal Drug Administration since 2011, but it hasn’t gained much traction throughout the United States since then. In central Virginia, he said Henrico Doctors’ Hospital is the only facility using the new technology. In the U.S., there aren’t many locations that are utilizing CEM.

He said the new technology is beneficial for patients with dense breasts or those who may not be able to get an MRI. Since 2019, when Dr. Gabriel brought the new technology into Henrico Doctors’ Hospital, he said volume has increased.

When cancer was spotted on O’Neill’s scans, she had a double mastectomy, stopping the cancer before it could have a chance to spread.

“It’s upsetting, but I wasn’t shocked,” O’Neill said.

25 years ago, her mother suffered from breast cancer.

“She had both of her breasts removed. They didn’t catch it in time. It spread throughout her body,” O’Neill said.

She said if doctors had the contrast enhanced mammography technology back then, her mother would’ve lived a longer life. She’s now urging others to get the scan if it’s right for them.

“Have it looked at immediately and have peace of mind. Either you know, they find something, or if they don’t, you’re lucky,” she said.

Dr. Gabriel said it’s not the cancer in the breast that will shorten someone’s life, it’s when the cancer leaves the breast and goes to another part of the body.

He said no test is 100%, but it does increase their ability to find cancer earlier.