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August 2019

3-D Test May Catch More Breast Cancers

Mammograms have been shown to reduce the number of breast cancer­-related deaths among women who are older than 40. But these important screenings have their drawbacks, too. Mammograms miss about 1 in 5 cancers. They also can give false-positive results. This means an abnormal result even though you don’t have cancer. This can cause anxiety. But another type of mammogram may help some of these concerns.

Doctor talking with woman in exam room

The test is called tomosynthesis. It makes a 3-D image of the breast. The test may give fewer false positives and catch more tumors, research says.

Breast cancer screening options

Conventional mammograms use an X-ray to take 2-D pictures of the breast. A radiologist reviews these photos and looks for abnormal areas.

Traditionally, mammograms were done on film. But nowadays many are digital, similar to a digital camera. The images are stored on a computer. This makes the results easy for doctors to magnify the images for a closer look. It may also reduce the need for follow-up tests.

Digital mammograms may be more effective at finding cancer in some women. That includes those who have dense breasts and are premenopausal or younger than age 50.

Cutting-edge cancer testing

Tomosynthesis takes digital mammograms one step further. The test takes multiple images from many angles. A computer puts them together to make a 3-D image of each breast.

The technology has many potential advantages. In one study, researchers examined more than 450,000 mammograms. Some of them were digital alone and some used tomosynthesis. Cancer was detected more often in 3-D scans. Women who had the 3-D test were also less likely to need follow-up tests.

The scans have drawbacks, too. They’re more expensive, and not all facilities in the U.S. offer them. And while the test uses very low dose X-rays, it may expose you to more radiation because it is usually done at the same time as a standard mammography. The radiation levels are still safely within limits set by the FDA. But newer strategies allow tomosynthesis to be done alone. For this, the radiation levels may be closer to a standard mammogram.

Tomosynthesis has been approved by the FDA, but experts still are unsure if a 3-D mammography is better at catching breast cancer early than a 2-D one.

What’s the right screening for you?

No one option is right for everyone. Traditional mammograms still work. And experts say more studies are needed to find out if tomosynthesis is better than traditional mammograms.

Until then, talk with your doctor about your breast cancer risk and screening plan. The earlier you catch breast cancer, the easier it is to treat.

 

Online Medical Reviewer: McDonough, Brian, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2019
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