This Type of Mammogram Could “Significantly Reduce” Unnecessary Cancer Scares

Digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT) can more clearly identify cancer and reduce the number of unnecessary biopsies.

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Finding a breast lump is panic-inducing. And the follow up—typically a mammogram, which has a strong chance of coming up false positive—only prolongs the anxiety. A positive result will require further testing, usually a biopsy. All told, finding a lump sparks a chain of unpleasant events and agonizing waiting. But what if you could find out—without a biopsy—if your lump is benign? A new mammogram technology may save a lot of women unnecessary anguish.

Called digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT), this new technology captures multiple photos at multiple angles and combines them to create three-dimensional images of the suspicious lump. Standard mammograms are two dimensional and often fail to reveal all the necessary details.

In a recent study published in the journal Radiology, Nisha Sharma, MD, director of breast screening at Seacroft Hospital, in Leeds, England, tracked more than 30,933 women who had a regular mammogram and, shortly after, a DBT scan.

It turned out that 1,420 of the women needed additional screening, and 571 ended up getting a biopsy as a result. After an independent group of radiologists analyzed the DBT scans, they were able to find that only 298 women actually needed the biopsy—plus, the DBT scans still identified all the women—a total of 142—who actually had cancer. The results indicate that DBT scans would not only reduce the number of women getting biopsied unnecessarily, but the scans would also maintain the current cancer detection rate.

“The main advantage of DBT is its potential to improve the sensitivity and specificity of mammography. It provides a series of thin-section images through the breast that reduces [the risk of] cancers being missed or women without breast cancer being recalled for diagnostic workup,” writes Dr. Sharma and her co-authors. If you do have an abnormal mammogram, these are the 7 questions you should ask.

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