3D Mammography Improves Cancer Detection in Dense Breasts

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A study presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA 2014) has found that digital breast tomosynthesis, also known as three-dimensional (3D) mammography, has the potential to significantly increase the cancer detection rate in mammography screening of women with dense breasts.

Current Screening Limitations

Research has shown that dense breasts are more likely to develop cancer, a problem compounded by the fact that cancer in dense breasts can be difficult to detect on mammograms. Other imaging modalities like ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are often used to help find cancers that can’t be seen on mammograms, but both modalities have higher rates of false-positive findings, according to study lead author Per Skaane, MD, PhD, from the Department of Radiology at Oslo University Hospital in Norway.

Dr. Skaane and colleagues have been studying tomosynthesis as a promising breast cancer screening option that addresses some of the limitations of mammography by providing 3D views of the breast.

Study Details

The researchers compared cancer detection using full-field digital mammography vs full-field digital mammography plus digital breast tomosynthesis in 25,547 women between the ages of 50 and 69. Breast density was classified based on the American College of Radiology’s Breast Imaging-Reporting and Data System (BI-RADS). The BI-RADS breast density scale runs from 1 to 4, with 1 being the least dense and 4 being the most dense.

There were 257 malignancies detected on full-field digital mammography and a combination of digital mammography and tomosynthesis in the study group, including 105 in the density 2 group and 110 in density 3. Of the 257 cancers, 211, or 82%, were detected with digital mammography plus tomosynthesis, a significant improvement over the 163, or 63%, detected with digital mammography alone.

Full-field digital mammography plus tomosynthesis pinpointed 80% of the 132 cancer cases in women with dense breasts, compared to only 59% for digital mammography alone.

Increase in Cancer Detection

“Our findings are extremely promising, showing an overall relative increase in the cancer detection rate of about 30%,” Dr. Skaane said. “Stratifying the results on invasive cancers only, the relative increase in cancer detection was about 40%.”

Tomosynthesis not only improved the cancer detection rate in women with dense breasts, it also helped increase detection for women in the “fatty breast” BI-RADS categories.

“Our results show that implementation of tomosynthesis might indicate a new era in breast cancer screening,” Dr. Skaane said. ■

Disclosure: Dr. Skaane has received support from Hologic.


1. Skaane P, et al: 2014 Annual Meeting of the Radiological Society of North America. Scientific paper VSBR31-16. Presented December 2, 2014.