The Mammogram Of The Future Today: 3-D Mammography Is Faster And More Accurate

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Many women wonder if mammogram screening is worth the time, effort and discomfort. Considering that only two to four screening mammograms out of every thousand actually lead to a diagnosis of breast cancer — and that up to 10 percent of breast cancers may be over-diagnosed through use of traditional mammography — the concerns of women are valid. Luckily, there is newer, more accurate digital technology available that surpasses the diagnostic capabilities of the older 2D (whether film or digital) sort. These are the mammograms of the future, and they are here today. The latest step in diagnostic mammography is 3-D mammography, also known as tomosynthesis, and it continues to demonstrate tremendous value. Ultimately, it is proving to be much faster and more accurate, enabling quicker breast cancer diagnosis.

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Using low-dose x-rays, the 3D mammogram can take a few seconds longer. Patients are therefore subjected to slightly more radiation than they would have been with use of 2D imaging, but the 3D image provides a substantially clearer picture. 3D mammograms have been instrumental in correct identification of cancerous tumors four to five percent more often than the 2D variety, but so far there is insufficient evidence to suggest that the use of 3D mammograms is actually able to reduce the number of women who will die from breast cancer. Both types of mammogram involve roughly the same level of physical discomfort.

Pros of using 3D mammography:

  • Some studies have suggested that 3D mammograms can reduce chances of being called back for follow-up testing by as much as 15 percent.
  • Studies so far have also shown that 3D mammograms may increase detection by finding more cancers.
  • 3D mammograms can detect tumors more easily than the 2D variety in dense breast tissue. This translates to earlier diagnosis and treatment for potentially thousands of breast cancer patients. Both types of mammogram can detect tiny tumors too small to be felt, but unfortunately treating those tumors may not always succeed. Faster-growing, more aggressive cancer may have already spread before it’s found. Fatal tumors come in all sizes.

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Cons of using 3D mammography:

  • Insurance companies do not yet cover them, even under the terms of the Affordable Care Act.
  • More studies on clinical outcomes are needed before increased use of tomosynthesis as a tool for screening will occur. If such usage results in fewer unnecessary tests and biopsies, along with a corresponding increase in cancer detection rates, the benefits would clearly outweigh the risks and possibly even reduce costs significantly while saving additional lives.
  • Recent research published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research indicates that doctors may be able to rule out malignancy. With this technology, they may be able to differentiate not only between benign and malignant, but also between the more aggressive and deadly or less dangerous slowly-developing growths — all without the stress of a biopsy.

For women over 50, it seems to make little difference which sort of mammography is used. For most women, digital mammography may prove prohibitively expensive and may also detect abnormalities that will be treated – even though they are not dangerous – just because they exist. 2D digital mammography may actually be more accurate for women who have denser breasts as well as for most women under 50, but the majority of women under the age of 50 don’t even need to bother with screening mammography.

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