Science and technology have made many strides when it comes to improving our mammogram equipment. Mammography—breast imaging—began as an analog discipline, but its methods have been continually tweaked over a period of decades, always with the aim of improving the quality of the images. Now digital mammography has arrived on the scene, with its greatly improved image quality.
3D mammography with tomosynthesis
This new 3D technology accomplishes several things—it reduces false positives by 17.2 percent (which means that it reduces the call-back rate) and yet, according to the research studies conducted to date, it doesn’t miss any of the cancers that patients do in fact have. And the radiologists using the new technology were able to increase their accuracy in identifying cancers by 11 percent to 16 percent. More research will likely be done focusing on women with very dense breasts, as well as with women who develop invasive lobular carcinoma, a type of cancer known historically to be difficult to image.
Simply put, 3D mammography with tomosynthesis is increasing the number of women whose cancers are diagnosed earlier instead of going undiagnosed until a later time—and by “later,” we often mean years.
A dramatic study
In a large research study published in the June 2013 Lancet Oncology, 7,292 women agreed to be screened with both a 2D digital mammogram and the new 3D version of mammography. These women were all coming in for routine screening mammograms and were therefore symptom free. Among the nearly 7,300 participants, the 3D technology diagnosed 59 women with breast cancer—52 of them with invasive disease. In contrast, when the radiologists re-screened the same 7,292 women by looking only at their 2D digital images, they only managed to diagnose 20 women with breast cancer.
Needless to say, in the coming months we’re all going to hear of breast-imaging facilities that are converting to 3D imaging. The hope is that even more women will be diagnosed with this new technology, so that they can find out about their breast cancer at a much earlier stage—the period when breast cancer is the most treatable and survivable.