ORLANDO, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — A 3D mammogram is a newer type of screening method that creates three-dimensional pictures of the breast using x-rays. Research shows this technology may improve cancer detection. So why isn’t every woman getting a 3D scan?
One in every eight American women will develop invasive breast cancer in her lifetime.
A mammogram is the gold standard screening tool for spotting a breast tumor. But now there’s the 3D mammogram. It takes multiple x-ray images from many angles and creates a 3D picture of the breast. Studies show it can detect more cancers in women with dense breast tissue, and it renders fewer false positives.
Debbie Bennett, MD, the director of breast imaging at SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital in St. Louis Missouri, told Ivanhoe “The data actually shows that 3D mammography is better for all groups of women than 2D mammography.”
But not every woman is being offered this technology. Part of the reason? It’s much more expensive than a standard mammogram, so many facilities can’t afford the equipment. Also, some experts say even if the 3D method spots more cancers, that may not translate to saved lives. And there’s the concern over radiation. In the past, the 3D mammogram was combined with 2D, so radiation exposure was much higher. However, newer 3D-only machines emit less radiation. The bottom line? You’ll have to stay tuned to see if 3D goes mainstream.
Another reason many hospitals aren’t going 3D? The equipment needed for a 3D mammogram requires facilities to change their electrical supply and upgrade their air conditioning because the machine is sensitive to heat.
Contributors to this news report include: Julie Marks, Producer; Roque Correa, Editor.
MAMMOGRAMS OR NOT?
BACKGROUND: A mammogram is an x-ray picture of the breast used to check for signs of breast cancer. A screening mammogram is when there are no signs of cancer but the x-ray images may detect tumors that cannot be felt. A diagnostic mammogram is used to check for cancer when a lump or other sign has been found. Besides a lump, signs of breast cancer can include breast pain, thickening of the skin of the breast, nipple discharge, or a change in breast size or shape; however, these signs may also be signs of benign conditions. The same machine is used for both types of mammograms, but diagnostic mammography takes longer to perform than screening mammography and the total dose of radiation is higher because more x-ray images are needed to obtain views of the breast from several angles. Mammograms require very small doses of radiation. The risk of harm from this radiation exposure is low, but repeated x-rays have the potential to cause cancer. Although the potential benefits of mammography nearly always outweigh the potential harm from the radiation exposure, women should talk with their health care providers about the need for each x-ray. Film mammograms have been replaced by digital mammograms, but now there is a different type of digital mammogram called 3D mammography that is raising questions.
3D VS. 2D: 3D mammograms, also known as tomosynthesis or “tomo,” use the same x-ray technology as regular “2D” mammograms. The procedure is the same from the patient’s point of view, although it will take a few seconds longer. In both 3D and 2D mammograms, the breast is compressed between two plates. In 2D mammograms, which take images only from the front and side, this may create images with overlapping breast tissue. Because 3D mammography provides images of the breast in “slices” from many different angles, finding abnormalities and determining which abnormalities may be important may be easier with 3D tests. Studies that were funded by Hologic (first company whose 3D mammograms were FDA approved) showed that the combination of 3D and 2D was more accurate than 2D mammograms, although the difference in accuracy was tiny for each patient. Just as importantly, women who undergo screening with 3D+2D mammography are less likely to be called back for more testing due to a suspicious finding that turns out not to be cancer. This means fewer false scares. 2D screening mammograms are free for patients covered by healthcare insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Some insurers will not cover 3D mammograms, and others charge women a surcharge.
COST: 3D systems cost an average of $430,000 while the 2D systems cost roughly 30% less. Hospitals are under pressure from consumers to adopt the 3D systems because research has shown that 2D machines can miss signs of cancer or require additional screenings, which can cost patients money.
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