Liane Philpotts, MD: Breast radiologist mixes warmth, skill

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In radiology, the notoriously difficult task of reading mammograms is both an art and a science. No one understands that better than Liane Philpotts, MD, who paints and draws in her spare time, bringing her visual sensibility to her work as a diagnostic radiologist.

Reading digital screening mammograms is an important aspect of Dr. Philpotts’ job, but she also spends quite a bit of her time interacting with patients. About 10 percent of mammogram screening patients are called back for follow-up, and Dr. Philpotts and her colleagues see every single one of them. “There’s so much anxiety regarding breast cancer,” she said. “We’re doing a lot of psychotherapy all day long too.”

Dr. Philpotts frequently uses ultrasound to work up questionable mammogram findings. In Connecticut, a 2009 law mandates that women with more than 50 percent dense breast tissue must be informed of the benefits of screening ultrasound or MRI.

MRI is used to screen the highest risk patients, for example patients who are BRCA positive or have a strong family history of breast cancer. Most patients with a new cancer diagnosis will have an MRI, because it allows Dr. Philpotts to better view the extent of disease and determine if there are additional foci in the affected—or the opposite—breast. It’s also useful in the case of breast implants, where there is a risk of rupture, and after lumpectomy, if there is scar tissue that makes it difficult to get a clear view on a mammogram.

Dr. Philpotts is eager to make use of breast tomosynthesis, the latest technological advance in detecting breast cancer. Yale was one of five beta sites to conduct a trial for the first vendor to get FDA approval for the technology last February. Breast tomosynthesis is similar to mammography, except that it generates a 3-D image of the breast that can then be viewed in slices. Dr. Philpotts likens it to leafing through the pages of a book, much like a CT scan but with a much lower radiation level. Dr. Philpotts hopes the new unit will allow her group to heavily utilize Yale’s new unit in as many screening patients as possible. “It will probably reduce a lot of callbacks that are false positives due to superimposed tissue,” she said. “We may also find a few cancers we might have missed, especially those hiding in dense tissue.”

In the meantime, she will continue to combine her clinical expertise with warmth and compassion for patients who are going through tough times. Amidst the waiting-room nervousness, she frequently sees a lot of bonding taking place. “Wonderful things happen every single day,” she said.

More about Dr. Philpotts

Name: Liane Philpotts, MD

Title: chief of breast imaging, professor of diagnostic radiology

Area of expertise: Breast imaging

Place of birth: Cambridge, England

Age: 48

College: McGill University, Montreal, Canada

Med School: McGill University, Montreal, Canada

Training: Residency in diagnostic radiology at McGill University, Royal Victoria Hospital, Montreal, Quebec; Fellowship in breast and chest imaging at Yale-New Haven Hospital

Family: Husband, Grant Thomson, MD, plastic and reconstructive surgeon at Yale; Children Paisley, 18; Cameron, 17; Bryce, 12

What is most challenging to you in academic medicine? Finding time to balance the busy clinical schedule with enough time to teach and do research, and, of course, family life.

What is most rewarding? Being able to subspecialize in my field. I am privileged to be able to concentrate on what I love, day in and day out, and not have to worry about doing other things I am not as interested in.

What do you like most about your practice? I think I have the best job in the world as it combines the science and art of (breast) imaging with interventional procedures and patient contact, which is a unique combination in radiology.

Personal interests or pastimes? Art (painting and drawing), dance (tap currently), running, tennis, knitting, community theater

Last book read: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

What would you do to improve our clinical environment if you had a magic wand? I would love it if there were a better way to reduce patient anxiety. We have to recall many women for additional imaging, and we have to perform many biopsies to find small cancers. I wish we could reduce this. Newer technology should help in the future.

This Article was submitted by Mark Santore, on Tuesday, January 07, 2014.
Source: Yale Medical Group