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3D Mammography, a Major Advancement for Cancer Detection

Every October marks Breast Cancer Awareness Month to highlight the challenges and threats that breast cancer poses, and to celebrate new research into prevention, diagnosis and treatment breakthroughs which could one day lead to a cure for this devastating disease.

Although deaths from breast cancer have declined over time, breast cancer still remains the second leading cause of cancer death among women overall and the leading cause of cancer death among Hispanic women. According to the American Breast Cancer Society, from 2013 to 2018, the death rate went down by 1% per year. These decreases are undoubtedly attributed to improvement in early detection, as well as increased awareness and better treatments.

In the past, a human radiologist looked at mammogram results to look for and detect cancer. However, humans can make mistakes. Nearly half (49%) of the people who get mammograms every year for 10 years get a false positive result, and between 10% and 30% have a false negative. Now, radiologists use artificial intelligence (AI) software to help them read mammograms better, but since AI isn’t advanced enough yet to completely replace human eyes, researchers are looking for the best ways to combine artificial and human intelligence to diagnose breast cancer.

One of those ways is with the use of breast tomosynthesis, 3-D mammography. This procedure takes images from different angles around the breast and builds them into a 3-D-like image, increasing the specificity and sensitivity of mammograms. These three dimensional images help minimize the tissue overlap that can hide cancers or make it difficult to distinguish normal overlapping breast tissue from tumors. It’s been shown in studies that tomosynthesis could improve the diagnostic performance of radiologists in the detection of breast cancer by 27-50%.

Any woman age 40-54 needs a yearly mammogram and should consider 3D mammography. Women with dense breast tissue in particular may benefit because it provides a clearer picture. Using 3D mammography makes it easier for doctors to catch breast cancer at the earliest stage possible (when it’s most treatable) and also helps catch more cancers.

Insurance providers in the United States typically cover the cost of traditional mammography. Many providers, including Medicare, are now covering tomosynthesis as part of breast cancer screening too. For more information regarding 3-D screening and the cost, I encourage you to reach out to your primary health care provider.