The goal of screening mammography — recommended every year for women beginning at age 40 — is to detect breast cancer at an early stage, before it has spread and while it is still easily treated. But mammography isn't a perfect test because it can miss up to 10 percent to 15 percent of breast cancers.
A new imaging technology, 3-D digital breast tomosynthesis, helps to eliminate some of the most common barriers to early detection. Breast tomosynthesis provides a clearer, more accurate view of the breast by producing a series of 1-millimeter-thick images, often referred to as slices, which are then digitally reconstructed to form a three dimensional view of the breast.
On 2-D images, dense breast tissue often resembles a smoky haze, and overlapping breast tissue can create the illusion of an abnormal area. Breast tomosynthesis offers 3-D images that provide radiologists the capability of examining all the complexities of the breast tissue by viewing the whole breast or seeing it more precisely layer by layer in fine detail.
Any area that appears abnormal will still require a call-back for the patient so that the area can be further evaluated. However, the more clear and precise 3-D images produced with breast tomosynthesis technology help radiologists better distinguish between harmless abnormalities (false positives) from real tumors. These results should translate to fewer false positives and less anxiety for patients.
Just as in a traditional digital mammogram, breasts still need to be compressed between two plates for breast tomosynthesis. The X-ray arm will sweep in a slight arc over the breast, taking multiple images in seconds. Very low X-ray energy is used. The entire procedure time for breast tomosynthesis is comparable to that of a traditional digital mammogram. Patients are likely to notice very little differences between breast tomosynthesis and a traditional digital mammogram.
Breast tomosynthesis, an exciting new technology in the fight against breast cancer, provides the opportunity to find cancers sooner, which should in turn increase survival.
You can learn more about advances in breast imaging and enjoy a movie by attending "Mammogram and a Movie" at 6 p.m. Sept. 26 at Cinemark at Richmond Centre in Richmond. Sponsored by Baptist Health Lexington and Baptist Health Richmond. Register at BaptistHealthRichmond.com/movie or call (859) 260-2220.
Dr. Angela Moore is medical director of Baptist Health Lexington Breast Imaging.