Medical Breakthroughs 2013: A 3-D Weapon Against Breast Cancer
One of the Hudson Valley’s top medical breakthroughs in 2013
Photograph courtesy of Albany Medical Center
While the incidence of breast cancer has been decreasing in recent years, about 12 percent of women in the U.S. will still develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime. Luckily, tools to detect and treat breast cancer keep improving, and two local medical centers are now among the growing number of facilities nationwide to offer one of the latest technologies.
Three-D digital mammography, which was approved by the FDA in early 2011, provides radiologists with highly detailed images of breast tissue, making it easier to help detect and analyze possible cancers.
The 3-D technology, also known as digital tomosynthesis or tomography, provides three-dimensional images of the breast. The machine takes multiple images of the tissue using a process similar to CT scanning.
“Breast tomography is a wonderful addition to the arsenal of tools available for breast cancer detection” says Susan Gibbons, M.D., a radiation oncologist with Albany Medical Center, which now offers the 3-D testing.
Dr. Gibbons says 3-D mammography can be helpful for women with dense, hard-to-image breasts, and/or those with a history of breast cancer. The procedure is done in the same way as a standard digital mammography, and is performed in addition to a 2-D mammogram.
But with tomosynthesis, the test equipment moves in an arc and changes angles to capture additional views of the breast, which are then computed together into a 3-D image.
According to Hudson Valley Hospital Center in Cortlandt Manor, which also offers digital tomosynthesis, this added third dimension helps reduce the chances that a radiologist might miss detecting small cancerous masses, which could be hidden in a mammogram due to overlapping breast tissue or shadowy images.
A January article in the medical journal Radiology reported promising results with the technology — in one trial, screening with two-dimensional mammography, plus 3-D image reconstruction using tomosynthesis, increased detection of invasive breast cancers (those that might spread further into the breast) by 40 percent, and reduced false-positive rates by 15 percent.
Since the 3-D procedure does expose breasts to added radiation, some health experts suggest that women should discuss with their doctor whether digital tomosynthesis would be a beneficial screening method for them. In addition, many insurance companies do not yet cover 3-D mammography, so patients may have to pay out of pocket, or shell out an additional co-pay, for the service.