3-D mammography, compared to traditional imaging, offers a clearer view of breast tissue.

Why are radiologists so enthusiastic about 3-D mammography (digital breast tomosynthesis), a new imaging technology for diagnosing breast cancer?

The simple answer is that it could help save thousands of lives each year.

3-D mammography, compared to traditional two-dimensional imaging, offers a clearer view of the dense tissue within a woman’s breast. Specifically, it enables radiologists to see tumors when they are very small and differentiate them from abnormalities that look like tumors but are usually benign, such as micro-calcifications (calcium deposits) or cysts. When radiologists are able to identify malignant tumors at this early stage, it usually means that the cancer has been found before it has spread to other parts of the body.

Research supports the notion that 3-D mammography enhances a radiologist’s expertise. Recent studies show that a radiologist using 3-D mammography is 10 percent more likely to detect early stages of cancer than one using standard two-dimensional mammography. And most doctors believe that early detection of breast cancer saves thousands of lives each year.

“I am thrilled to have this technology available at Brigham and Women’s Hospital,” said Director of the Division of Breast Imaging Robyn Birdwell, MD. “Because we can find breast cancers earlier, many women will be spared the more severe treatment options, like mastectomy. Just by maintaining a health routine that’s already well established for many women – obtaining annual mammograms – the shift to this new technology will save more lives and help reduce the anxiety that women feel about a potential breast cancer diagnosis.”

Patients who shift to the new technology shouldn’t notice much of a difference. The 3-D mammography and traditional mammography processes are essentially the same for the patient, although a 3-D mammogram takes a few minutes longer to complete because of the complexity of the imagery.

Currently, the BWH Division of Breast Imaging is using 3-D mammography for screening all women over age 40, except those who have breast implants or Parkinson’s disease. For more information, contact the Lee Bell Center for Breast Imaging at (617) 732-6248.

– Bryan M, Chris P

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