New technology to detect breast cancer

October 15, 2014

Tomosynthesis, a new breast cancer-detecting technology, is now available. Not only does the technology increase the ability to detect breast cancer, it may also reduce the number of callbacks for additional imaging.

Tomosynthesis, also known as 3-D mammography, is performed like a mammogram, but produces three dimensional images that allow the breast tissue to be viewed in individual segments, allowing radiologists to evaluate glandular tissue in greater detail.

“The previous technology only allowed us to see breast tissue in one dimension because breast tissue is naturally stacked upon itself, it makes it difficult to see cancerous tissue that can be hidden between surrounding breast tissue,” Terri Soley, Radiology, says. “Tomosynthesis allows us to see breast tissue in slices allowing us to see the places cancer often hides.”

Holland Ravelle, M.D., says, “Tomosynthesis not only helps us see abnormalities which may have been obscured by overlapping tissue, but it also helps us better determine the features of findings.  This can help us determine how suspicious a finding is and what imaging we need to do next.”

This technology is the next evolution of digital mammography. Digital mammography is still the gold standard for breast cancer detection. When possible tomosynthesis is a great option for women who exhibit breast cancer symptoms. Women with a history of breast cancer in their family, those who are pre-menopausal or those who have been told they have dense tissue are the group of women who benefit most from tomosynthesis, although women can request the use of the technology anytime. 

Physicians recommend women over the age of 40 get annual mammogram screenings. “Some women ask if they can skip their mammograms because they don’t have a family history,” Ravelle says. “Most women who develop breast cancer do not have a family history of breast cancer. The biggest factors are being female and increasing age.”  

Women with a history of breast cancer in their family, who are pre-menopausal or with dense tissue are advised to have a mammogram using tomosynthesis, although women can request the use of the technology anytime. 

Currently, Mayo Clinic Health System offers tomosynthesis at limited locations (contact your local Mayo Clinic Health System location to find out if it is available near you). Standard digital mammography, which is the recommended for most women and is the gold standard for breast cancer detection, is available throughout the health system. Women ages 40 and older should have a screening mammogram yearly and should perform self-breast examinations to observe any changes that may signal something serious, such as breast cancer

“This technology has allowed our radiologists to detect abnormal breast tissue at a small size,” Soley says. “However, I can’t stress enough that a women should not skip her annual mammogram appointment beginning at age 40. The sooner cancer is detected, the better her outcome.”

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