Mammography is one of the best ways to detect breast cancer in people with no symptoms, balancing thoroughness on the one hand with relative non-invasiveness on the other. It is important to try to detect breast cancer as early is possible, because it rapidly becomes less responsive to treatment. Now a new technique could help make early detection of breast cancer more accurate.
That’s why the American Cancer Society recommends that all women receive annual mammograms starting at age 40 to screen for breast cancer. Now doctors nationwide have been using a new imaging technology to produce mammograms in three dimensions, as opposed to flat pictures, which provide a more accurate view of the internal breast tissue. New research finds that adding this technology, called breast tomosynthesis, to a traditional two-dimensional mammogram increases the likelihood of detecting invasive breast cancers by 40 percent. False positives were also reduced. Less formally, a diagnostic imaging lab in Washington, D.C., that offered tomosynthesis to its patients found similar results, with radiologists able to be more confident about both positive and negative results.
Tomosynthesis machines can do traditional mammograms as well, meaning the additional procedure does not create additional inconvenience or discomfort for the patient. However, rather than the two x-rays of each breast that comprise a mammogram, tomosynthesis takes many images using low-dose x-rays. A computer then uses the data from these images to create a virtual digital image of the breast tissue.
That means tomosynthesis doesn’t require that the breasts be squashed. This isn’t just a matter of comfort. The squashing can mask irregularities and it can cause an apparent irregularity to appear when in fact the tissue is healthy. Tomosynthesis needs far less squashing, making the experience more pleasant as well as more accurate. The 3D technique also allows the results to be determined faster—minutes, as opposed to days, in some cases—while being more accurate than conventional diagnostic imaging alone.