Hologic zeroes in on 3-D mammography to keep growth engine running

Hologic CEO Steve MacMillan

As doctors shift away from traditional mammography for breast cancer screening, Hologic ($HOLX), the biggest maker of mammography equipment, is focusing on new 3-D machines to keep its numbers running northward.

The Bedford, MA-based company's shares tumbled 2.8% last week after the American Cancer Society unveiled new guidelines for mammograms, saying that women should wait longer before having annual screenings and that women aged 55 and older should only get mammograms every other year. But overall the company's shares are up 40% this year, Bloomberg reports, beating the Street's estimates and giving it strong footing for the year ahead.

Sales of its new 3-D mammography machines could be responsible for the gains. The company reaps more than a third of its $2.7 billion in annual sales from breast health products. Last year, a company-funded study showed that women who got 3-D scans came back 15% less for more testing. And 3-D mammography also identified 41% more invasive cancers that needed serious treatment, according to the study results.

"In much of the healthcare system, diagnosis is still as much an art as it is a science. We are bringing greater certainty," Hologic CEO Steve MacMillan told Bloomberg before the recent ACS guidelines were published.

But Hologic could face some obstacles along the way as it carves out a bigger space in the market. 3-D machines cost more than traditional machines, running at $400,000 to $450,000 for the former compared to $150,000 to $300,000 for the latter, Bloomberg points out, a number that is still difficult for some customers to stomach.

And even though Hologic is still king of the mammography equipment hill, bringing in nearly half of the almost $2 billion in global equipment annual sales, its 3-D Genius system comprises fewer than 2,000 of the 14,000 machines in the U.S. The company also competes with GE ($GE) and Siemens, which are making strides with related devices.

At least for now, though, Hologic seems to be coasting toward more growth. Controversy over mammography probably won't have a major effect on Hologic or its rivals in the long term, Evercore ISI analyst Vijay Kumar told Bloomberg. About 14,000 facilities in the U.S. offer mammograms, and they will all shift to 3-D technology eventually, Kumar said, giving Hologic an expanded market for its devices.

- read the Bloomberg story