Findings from a study that used data from 13 health centers have confirmed that mammograms combined with a 3D imaging technique have boosted the performance of U.S. screening programs for breast cancer.
A team headed by Dr. Sarah M. Friedewald, from Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Illinois, evaluated data from 454,850 breast studies, according to Medical News Today. Of this pool, 173,663 were the result of combining digital mammography with a 3D imaging technique known as tomosynthesis. Findings appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The National Cancer Institute estimates that 232,670 new cases of breast cancer will appear in the United States in 2014. This is 14 percent of all new cancer cases. The agency predicts that 40,000 deaths will be linked to this disease that year and that at least 12 of every 100 American women will receive a diagnosis of this type of cancer at some point in their lives.
Traditional mammograms use two-dimensional imaging and have been criticized for creating too many false-positive readings. According to Massachusetts General Hospital, because tomosynthesis produces a 3D image of the breast, the technology improves the effectiveness of cancer screening and detection. Doctors are able to pinpoint the location, size and shape of a suspected abnormality. The technique also minimizes the impact of breast tissue that overlaps during the imaging session.
The Illinois team recorded the number of patients contacted for additional imaging, cancer detection rates and number of individuals recalled after a breast cancer diagnosis. The researchers also kept track of the number of patients who had biopsies after diagnosis.
When providers utilized digital tomosynthesis, the recall rate fell from 107 per 1,000 screenings to 91. The cancer detection rate climbed to 5.4 from 4.2. For cases of invasive cancer, the detection rate rose from 2.9 to 4.1 per 1,000 screenings.
Adding the 3D technology to mammography boosted the positive predictive value (number of individuals found to have breast cancer) for recalls to 6.4 from 4.3 percent. For biopsies, it climbed from 24.2 to 29.2 percent.
Overall, the researchers concluded that adding 3D imaging to digital mammography decreased the patient recall rate and raised the rate of detection of breast cancer. The study was also significant due to its size, which was 10 times bigger than prior studies, and the fact that the data reviewed came from both community health care and academic sources. However, controversy continues over when and how frequently to screen patients for breast cancer.
Vonda J. Sines has published thousands of print and online health and medical articles. She specializes in diseases and other conditions that affect the quality of life.