As 3D mammograms increase, hereís what to know

October 19, 2015

Women going in for their mammograms might encounter a fairly new technology: 3D.

Also called breast tomosynthesis, the technology was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2011. In recent years, as more hospitals purchase the equipment, itís gradually arriving in front of more patients.

Jim Culley, a spokesman for Boston-based Hologic, which sells the 3D mammography units, said his company has noticed a significant increase in recent years and shipped out a record number in the last fiscal quarter, although he declined to release figures. The company now has about 1,800 machines in places across the United States.

Hologicís website offers users throughout the country the ability to see if the technology is available near them.

In a Sept. 15 report from KLAS, a health-care research firm, 65 percent of 88 hospitals and imaging centers surveyed planned to invest in the technology within two years, an increase from 57 percent in 2014.

Knowing the basics might save you some questions in the doctorís office.

First, 3D mammograms happen at the same time as a 2D mammogram, said Sarah Friedewald, medical director of the Lynn Sage Comprehensive Breast Cancer Center in Chicago. It requires a new machine, but both scans are taken. The 3D moves in an arc, Friedewald said, whereas the 2D is stationary.

"A 2D mammogram is like looking at a closed book, and you just see the front cover," she said. "With the 3D mammogram, we can page through the breast and see whatís inside."

Friedewald said the technology has been shown to improve the detection of lethal breast cancers.

Much more accessible now that Medicare allows coverage, Friedewald said, the 3D version might be offered to more patients. Because of the more expensive equipment, however, insurance costs might be a concern for patients.

For those worried about radiation involved in screenings, Friedewald said, the combination is still below the FDAís limit. The FDAís limit is 3 mGy, she said, and the combination is about 2.65, which can vary slightly due to breast thickness and density.

"I recommend it for all my patients," she said.

Addressing another concern in the breast cancer field ó more testing resulting in more false alarms and anxiety ó Friedewald said data shows this does the opposite.

"We actually call fewer people back for unnecessary testing," she said. "To be able to do that simultaneously with increasing cancer detection makes it very powerful."



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