When it comes to breast cancer, early detection is the key to saving lives. Mammography is already one of the most important tools, and it's recently gotten a boost: 3D mammography, or breast tomosynthesis, was approved by the FDA last year and is now available in 46 states.
How does 3D technology differ from traditional 2D mammograms? Traditional mammograms require radiologists to look at the breast tissue from the top and sides and discern what's underneath the tissue. But because there's no way to differentiate between a potentially cancerous tumor and a benign lump of tissue, this often results in unnecessary patient call backs or false positives. The 3D technology aims to cut down on those numbers of call backs by taking pictures of the breast tissue from every angle.
"When patients get a call to come in for additional screening, anxiety and worry goes up. This technology has reduced the amount of patient call backs and false positives by about 40 percent," says Peter Soltani, Ph.D., senior vice president and general manager of breast health at Hologic, Inc., the manufacturer of the new technology.
Researchers have also found that early detection rates of cancer have improved by about 25 percent, Soltani says. "These are cancers that 2D mammography would eventually find, but not until a later stage when the tumor is larger."
Although radiologists tout this as a huge advancement in technology, it's not yet available everywhere, and critics argue that it will become more expensive when it is. They also cite the fact that it exposes women to slightly more radiation than traditional mammography.
Still, Soltani remains convinced that 3D mammography is the way to go, saying that not only does it cut down on false positives, but it will help women with dense breasts whose cancer might otherwise be hard to catch.
To get a better look at the two different technologies, scroll down and check out the photos.
Below you can see the results from a traditional 2D mammogram. The white spot in the middle represents a potential cancer, but because there's no way to look more closely at the different layers of tissue, it's hard to determine.
Conversely, in the 3D image below, you can see that each layer of tissue has been "sliced" away to reveal a more in-depth look. Ultimately, there is no cancer present.