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Sharp Health News

Seeing tumors in 3-D

Sept. 1, 2015

3D Mammography Most Advanced Breast Cancer Screening

Second only to skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women. Approximately one in eight women in the U.S. will develop invasive breast cancer sometime in their lives. More than 200,000 new cases — and over 40,000 deaths — were reported in the U.S. in 2014.

Death rates in breast cancer victims have fallen steadily in the past 30 years, thanks to better screening and earlier detection, which are vital to increasing the chance of survival.

Annual breast cancer screening should begin when a woman turns 40. This recommendation is supported by respected medical societies including the American Cancer Society, American College of Radiology and American Society of Breast Surgeons, among others.

Finding hidden abnormalities with tomosynthesis

Tomosynthesis, also known as "3-D mammography," is a new screening option for women at Sharp Memorial Outpatient Pavilion. The technology can uncover breast abnormalities unseen on traditional mammograms, allowing doctors to detect breast cancer earlier.

According to the May 2015 results of a study conducted by Lund University in Sweden, tomosynthesis detects 40 percent more breast cancers than traditional mammography.

"Like a traditional mammogram, tomosynthesis takes an image of the breast," explains Dr. Christina Casteel, Medical Director of the Breast Health Center at Sharp Memorial Hospital.

"But instead reducing the information to a single, flattened picture, the technology reconstructs the breast tissue images into a layer-by-layer view, essentially building a three dimensional mammogram."

With tomosynthesis, radiologists can examine breast tissue a millimeter at a time. Fine details are more clearly visible, and are less likely to be hidden by tissue above and below.

Since receiving approval from the Food and Drug Administration in 2011, tomosynthesis is rapidly replacing traditional mammograms nationwide. Not only can the technology help radiologists detect cancer earlier, but women receive fewer callbacks for additional screenings and fewer false-positives (by up to 40 percent), leading to more peace of mind.

Is a 3-D mammogram the right screening for you?

Tomosynthesis is especially effective for women with dense breasts, which can hide cancers behind less-fatty tissue. Roughly 40 percent of U.S. women have dense breast tissue, and most don't know it.

Recently, the California legislature passed a law requiring that women be informed by their health care provider if they have dense breast tissue, which may also be associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.

Women scheduled for a 3-D mammogram can expect a similar experience to a traditional screening:

  • The breast is compressed, but no more than is needed for a standard mammogram.
  • An X-ray arm on the machine makes a quick arc over the breast, taking a series of images at a number of angles.
  • Women are exposed to more radiation than during a traditional mammogram because 2-D and 3-D images are obtained during the same mammogram (a condition of the FDA's approval of tomosynthesis), but the dose is still well within safety standards.

"We have made tremendous strides against breast cancer over the past two decades, and 3-D mammography is the next frontier for early detection," says Dr. Casteel.

"Women interested in tomosynthesis should discuss the benefits with their primary care physician and check with their health insurance to ensure the screening is covered."

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