This year alone, the National Cancer Institute estimates that about 235,000 individuals in the U.S. will develop breast cancer, most of whom are women. Unfortunately, some of these may only learn about their condition only after their disease has worsened as symptoms of breast cancer only exhibit after it has spread. By this time, treating the condition already becomes difficult.

Early detection of abnormal breast tissue is crucial as this could pave way to early and more effective treatment and a new study suggests that screening women with conventional digital mammography plus a new technology known as 3D mammography, which generates a three-dimensional image of the breast, can improve breast cancer detection.

Mammography has been in use for breast cancer screening since 1969 but it comes with a number of limitations including false-positive and false-negative results. The new study published in JAMA on Tuesday, June 25, suggests that using conventional mammography along with 3D mammography can improve detection and even reduces odds for false positives that results in patients to be called back for further tests and biopsies.

For the study, Sarah Friedewald, from the Caldwell Breast Center of the Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Illinois and colleagues analyzed data of nearly 455,000 breast examinations involving either digital mammography alone and digital mammography plus tomosynthesis from 13 breast centers to determine if mammography combined with 3D mammography, also known as tomosynthesis, can improve breast screening results.

The researchers found that compared with ordinary mammograms, combining digital mammography and tomosynthesis improves detection of invasive cancer by 41 percent. The method is also associated with a 15 percent drop in patients who were called back because of false alarms and overall improved detection rate for all breast cancers by 29 percent compared with the current method.

"Addition of tomosynthesis to digital mammography was associated with a decrease in recall rate and an increase in cancer detection rate," the researchers wrote. "Further studies are needed to assess the relationship to clinical outcomes."

Tomosynthesis, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration three years ago for use, together with digital mammography for breast cancer screening, generates 3D image of the breast tissue which gives radiologists a better view of the overlapping slices of the breast tissue.

"The coming years will be very exciting, as we see further improvements in this innovative technology," said study author Emily Conant, from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. "This new technology will certainly change the way we screen women."

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