SURREY, B.C. -- A potentially life saving piece of equipment is now up and running in Surrey. It’s a machine that creates 3D scans for mammograms, allowing for better detection of cancer tumors, particularly in young women.

The device has been at the Jim Pattison Outpatient Care and Surgery Centre for about a month, and with October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it has also prompted a young Coquitlam woman to share her story.

Tammy Thomson is a breast cancer survivor and mother of two young children. Over the Easter long weekend last year, she started lactating blood. A quick Google search said it could be the result of having finished breastfeeding, but Thomson’s youngest child hadn’t been breastfed for a year and a half. She went to see her family doctor and went for a mammogram, but says the results were inconclusive. She asked to have more tests.

“After four mammograms, two biopsies, two ultrasounds and a galaticgram, my family doctor sat me down and said, ‘Look, you are 30 years old, you have no family history of cancer, you have results that show there is nothing to talk about,’” Thomson said.

As time went on, Thomson still knew something was wrong.

“I had one symptom: lactating blood. Not normal,” she said. “Then a month goes by, now I feel something that feels a little bit different, and now three months go by, now my skin is changing and five months has gone by, and now there’s indentation.”

She asked for a referral to see Dr. Rhonda Janzen at the Breast Health Clinic at the Jim Pattinson Centre.

“We had an MRI. That’s where a mass was detected,” Thomson said. “We’re not talking a little mass, we’re talking almost the size of my fist.”

A week later, Thomson had a double mastectomy. She was told that because she was only 30, her breast tissue was denser than that of an older woman. That made the cancer harder to detect.

That’s where the new machine comes in. Thomson had traditional 2D mammograms, and believes her cancer would have been found sooner using the 3D scan.

“It could have been just a removal of the tumor or it could have been a lumpectomy instead of a double mastectomy,” she said.

Janzen says the new technology gives a better picture.

“Until now, we just had the 2D scan, so we were only able to see the tissue only from two angles, from the top and from the side,” Janzen said. “This way we can arc through and take 11 or 12 shots of the breast tissue and then the computer puts it all together and gives us a better 3D image.”

The machine cost around $500,000, and was purchased with money raised through the Surrey Hospitals Foundation.

One in eight women in Canada will have breast cancer by the age of 80.