3D mammography: Now available

By: David T.

3D mammography improves breast cancer detection, especially in young women and women of any age with radiographically dense breast tissue. Women who undergo routine mammograms at Hoag Breast Care Center now have the latest screening technology available to them. Digital breast tomosynthesis is an FDA-approved 3D imaging modality that gives radiologists the ability to examine breast tissue in 1 mm. thin "slices", thereby eliminating the confusion of overlapping tissue, the Achilles heel of conventional 2D digital mammography.

Breast tomosynthesis is especially beneficial for women with dense breasts. Dense breast tissue can obscure an underlying cancer, or conversely mimic a cancer when none exists. Approximately 15 to 20 percent of breast cancers cannot be detected using traditional 2D mammography, especially in women with dense breast tissue.

"It's a major milestone to be the first breast center in California to offer digital breast tomosynthesis," said Gary M. Levine, M.D., director of breast imaging at Hoag Breast Care Center and one of the nation's leading experts in breast tomosynthesis.

"At Hoag we have been involved with the development and testing of tomosynthesis since 2009. Recent reader studies have confirmed digital breast tomosynthesis to be superior to conventional mammography alone at finding early breast cancer. Tomosynthesis will allow us to discover more early stage breast cancers, and early detection translates to lives saved," adds Dr. Levine.

During a four-second tomosynthesis exposure, 15 digital "projection" images are captured as it arcs over the breast. These images are then digitally reconstructed into a series of high-resolution one-millimeter slices that can be reviewed individually or played back in a cine loop.

"Tomosynthesis, by solving the issue of tissue superimposition, will not only allow us to detect breast cancer more reliably, it will also reduce the number of unnecessary call backs for additional testing," adds Dr. Levine.

Breast density is not based on family history and cannot be determined by look and feel of the breast. Approximately 75 percent of women in their forties have dense breasts, and this percentage typically decreases with age – with 54 percent of women in their fifties and 42 percent of women in their sixties having dense breasts. Overall, approximately 40 percent of the 50,000 women Hoag screens annually have radiographically dense breast tissue. Ask your physician or imaging staff if you have radiographically dense breast to confirm if tomosynthesis is right for you.

Regardless of whether a woman has dense breast tissue or not, yearly mammograms and awareness play a crucial role in early detection. Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among women, exceeded only by lung cancer. Statistics indicate that one in eight women will develop breast cancer sometime in her lifetime. The stage at which breast cancer is detected strongly influences a woman's chance of survival. Simply put, if found and treated early, breast cancer is among the most curable cancers. Specifically, if discovered while still localized to the breast, the long-term survival rate for breast cancer is greater than 90 percent.

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