Breast tomosynthesis, also known as 3D mammography, is an imaging technique that uses a low-dose x-ray system to produce three-dimensional (3D) images of the breasts. The advantage of this type of technology is that it can help radiologists more accurately detect small breast cancers, especially those located near the chest wall or with irregular shapes.
Tomosynthesis is an imaging modality that has been used in other parts of the body for several years. But, it has only recently been applied to breast cancer screening. Keep on reading for further information on breast tomosynthesis:
How Is It Done?
The breast tomosynthesis exam is similar to a conventional mammogram in that the breast is compressed between two plates. However, instead of taking one image of the entire breast, the x-ray arm sweeps in a slight arc over the breast, taking multiple different images at different angles.
A computer then reconstructs these images to create a 3D image of the breast. It shows breast tissue layer by layer, making it easier to pinpoint abnormal areas.
What Are The Benefits of Tomosynthesis?
There are several benefits of breast tomosynthesis, including:
- Reduced need for recall mammograms: In a large clinical trial that compared digital breast tomosynthesis to conventional digital mammography, recall rates were reduced by 40%. It means that fewer women will be called back for additional testing, which can save time and anxiety.
- Increased cancer detection: In the same clinical trial, breast tomosynthesis resulted in a 15% increase in the detection of invasive breast cancers.
- Greater accuracy: Tomosynthesis can be especially helpful in detecting small, early-stage breast cancers that may be hidden behind the dense breast tissue or near the chest wall.
Who Should Get A Tomosynthesis Exam?
The American College of Radiology and the Society of Breast Imaging strongly recommend that all women undergoing screening mammograms have a tomosynthesis exam.
If you have implants, you may not be able to have a tomosynthesis exam. The implants can cause artifacts (distortions) on the images.
When Do You Need Tomosynthesis?
There are two types of breast tomosynthesis exams: screening and diagnostic. A screening exam is used to check for breast cancer in women with no disease symptoms. This type of exam is typically done every year, starting at age 40.
A diagnostic exam is used to evaluate suspicious areas found on a screening exam or look for breast cancer in women and young girls who have symptoms, such as a lump, nipple discharge, or variations in the size or shape of their breast.
What Happens If An Abnormality Is Found?
If an abnormality is found on a tomosynthesis exam, your radiologist will recommend additional testing. It may include a conventional mammogram, ultrasound, or biopsy.
A biopsy is the sole way to diagnose breast cancer definitively. A small tissue sample is removed from the breast and examined under a microscope during a biopsy.
Are There Any Other Considerations?
There is a small risk of radiation exposure with breast tomosynthesis as with an imaging exam. However, the dose is very low – less than a conventional mammogram – and the benefits are thought to outweigh the risks.
If you are pregnant or believe you may be pregnant, you should not have a tomosynthesis exam. It is because radiation exposure during pregnancy can increase the risk of congenital disabilities.
Breast tomosynthesis is a new technology that shows promise in reducing recall rates and increasing cancer detection. If you are planning to get a mammogram, talk to your doctor about whether this modality is right.