Mammography is the best way to find breast cancer in its earliest stages, when a cure is most likely, the prognosis is best, and the treatment choices are greater.
Breast cancer is the second most prevalent form of cancer (after skin cancer) and the second leading cause of cancer related death (after lung cancer) among American women. In the United States, 1 out of 8 women, just under 12 percent, will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. (1)
Until recently, the best mammogram was a digital mammogram, which was an improvement over the original film mammogram.
Digital mammography is a 2-dimensional (2D) exam. When viewed by the radiologist, the full thickness of the breast tissue is projected as a flat image. This can result in unseen cancers and in normal tissue appearing abnormal, which may result in unnecessary recalls of patients for extra views.
For the patient, the 3D mammogram exam is similar to that for the 2D mammogram. The patient is imaged in the same orientation as before, with two views of each breast and both 2D and 3D images obtained with each position at the same time. Compression is still necessary for an optimal examination. Most women will not notice any difference from prior mammograms.
Improved Screening Technology
Breast Tomosynthesis, or 3-dimensional (3D) mammography, is new technology — pioneered at Massachusetts General Hospital — that allows the radiologist to examine the breast one layer at a time. The technique allows overlapping structures from different layers in the breast to be separated and the tissues to be seen more clearly. This is helpful for all women and is especially beneficial in women who have dense breast tissue.
The federal Food and Drug Administration approved 3D mammography in 2011; it has been used in Europe since 2008. The FDA approved 3D mammography to be used in conjunction with 2D mammography. In other words, both exams are done on the patient. This allows comparison with previous mammograms, which is an essential part of accurate mammographic interpretation, as 2D and 3D mammograms are not directly comparable.
Benefits for Patients
The combination of 2D and 3D imaging
has been shown to have the following
• A higher cancer detection rate. 3D
imaging finds 25 to 27 percent more
cancers and 40 percent more invasive
cancers than 2D mammography; it
offers increased sensitivity for smaller
tumors, masses without lymph node
spread, and earlier stage cancers than
• Up to a 40 percent reduction in
recall rates, alleviating the anxiety for
women who previously would have
required additional views for normal
tissue. It should be noted that most
women who are recalled for additional
imaging will not have breast cancer.
About 10 percent of those recalled are
referred for a biopsy, and less than half
of those biopsies, or under 5 percent
of recalled patients, are found to have
breast cancer; and
• Masses and other abnormalities
are better visualized and
characterized, affording a better prebiopsy
diagnosis and decreasing false
positive mammograms by at least
Time for Your Mammogram?
Book now in Northampton (582-2101) or
Louis Pacilio, MD,
Lead Radiologist for Mammography
Cooley Dickinson Hospital