The ability to detect breast cancer is now more accurate with three-dimensional mammography tests. A new scientific study published by The Journal of the American Medical Association says that the 3D tests, also called tomosynthesis, are more effective at detecting breast cancer than normal mammograms, and also create false alarms less often. The false alarms are when a scan shows something that could look like cancer, but after more tests turns out to be nothing. The experience is very nerve racking and creates tension for someone when none is needed.
A regular mammogram test scans an x-ray in two stationary positions, but the new three-dimensional tests take multiple x-rays from different angles and combine them together to create a more coherent image of the breast. This enables doctors to more clearly detect if there is a tumor or growth that may be hidden underneath breast tissue. Overall the tomosynthesis scans detect one additional breast cancer growth for every one thousand scans when compared to regular digital mammograms. The risk for false alarms fell by 15 percent.
In the United States there are thirty-eight million mammograms administered every year at a cost of about $8 billion for patients and their insurance providers. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the 3D x-ray machines and the practice of using them in the United States in 2011. According to Hologic, the only company who makes the machines permitted by the FDA, there are about 1,1000 3D mammography units in the United States and around 6 million American women will use the devices in 2014. The units cost up to $450,000 each, which is twice as much as a regular digital machine. Also not as many insurance companies cover the new 3D mammography tests that the study shows makes detection more accurate for breast cancer.
A few scientists have complained that the new tests do not necessarily save lives and could give off additional radiation to patients. The doctors at the 13 medical centers who provided information for the study said they used both the 3D tests and conventional digital tests, thus doubling the amount of radiation a patient received. The equipment used in the study gave off more radiation than regular mammography scans, but Hologic says that have created a newer version that uses the exact same amount. A senior director for the screening of caner at the American Cancer Society, Robert Smith said the added radiation is offset by the benefit of detecting more cancer, but agreed that more data and analysis needs to be done in the long-term.
Other doctors have been just as positive saying that if a patient has the access to a three-dimensional mammography-imaging device then they should feel entirely comfortable using it, even as the only test. The FDA originally stated that the new test should be done in addition to standard 2D digital mammograms, but in 2013 decided that the system could be used by itself. The detection rating for more invasive cancers also went up by 41 percent according to the study. That is good news for women, as breast cancer detection can now be even easier and more accurate with 3D mammography tests.
By B. Taylor Rash
New York Times