TORONTO- A new study of cancer patients suggests 3D mammograms may help doctors detect cancer more easily than traditional digital mammograms.
“We found invasive cancers or the cancers that we worry about, the ones that potentially kill people, more frequently in women who had the 3D mammogram versus the women who had just the 2D mammogram,” Dr. Sarah Friedewald, a doctor at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital said.
Friedewald co-authored the study, Breast Cancer Screening Using Tomosynthesis in Combination with Digital Mammography, which appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and is one of a growing number of papers to find benefits in using 3D mammograms (also called Digital Breast Tomosynthesis or DBT).
3D mammogram machines look very similar to the digital machines widely used for breast cancer screening in Canada but the 3D machine can take up to 15 images per mammogram, providing a much more detailed image than the digital mammogram which only captures one image.
In March 2013, Jennifer Hoeft, a cancer survivor, had a 3D mammogram
“It was a very small tumour. It was only eight millimetres [and] couldn’t be felt,” Hoeft said. “I truly believe that the 3D mammogram is what caught my cancer early and is allowing me to pretty much live my life the way I want to.”
Martin Yaffe, a senior scientist at Sunnybrook Hospital, has written several articles on imaging as a tool for cancer screening and thinks 3D mammography has the potential to help doctors detect cancer earlier.
He said Friedewald’s study was “not strong but definitely encouraging” because it was observational and not randomized. Sunnybrook has two 3D mammography machines but they are not open to the general public. Instead, they are currently only being used as part of larger studies.
Yaffe says the technology needs more study but admits it carries huge potential for helping patients. Sunnybrook is launching its own study this year. The study will be randomized and include patients who are in for screenings whether or not they have been diagnosed with cancer.
3D mammography is still considered new in Canada – there are two machines at Sunnybrook Hospital and one more at a B.C. hospital.
The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation has limited information on its website about 3D scans or Digital Breast Tomosynthesis. The information posted on the organization’s site calls it a developing technology that “may help improve the earlier detection of breast cancer in the future.”
“At the same time, fewer people had to come back for unnecessary testing which creates unnecessary anxiety,” Friedewald said.
The American study just published involved the review of digital and 3D mammograms from 454,850 patients from 13 sites across the country.
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