Breast Tomosynthesis Helps Detect Smaller Tumors

Focus on the Cure

Kelly S. Dempsey, M.D., FASCSpecialist in Diseases of the Breast

Kelly S. Dempsey, M.D., FASC
Specialist in Diseases of the Breast

When Houstonian Jeanne Parker underwent her annual mammogram, she admits she couldn’t pass up a special two-for-one offer. What she received in return helped save her life. Parker was one of the first women in the United States diagnosed with breast cancer in a clinical trial that compared the results of conventional 2-D mammography against a new technology called tomosynthesis.

Also known as 3-D mammography, breast tomosynthesis is an innovative digital technology that helps detect smaller tumors at the earliest stages. This FDA-approved technology, available at Memorial Hermann Imaging Centers, is particularly beneficial for women with dense breast tissue. Breast tomosynthesis is available to patients who are due for their yearly screening mammogram.

Tomosynthesis looks and feels the same as conventional 2-D mammography, yet it provides so much more. Whereas 2-D mammography takes images of the breast from just two angles, tomosynthesis creates highly focused 3-D imagery by combining 15 successive 2-D images of the stationary breast captured over a three-second period.

Because these images show the breast from various angles, radiologists can see “inside” of the breast, particularly if there is overlapping breast tissue where smaller tumors can hide. This provides improved diagnostic and screening accuracy. It also reduces the number of patient callbacks and additional imaging studies typically associated with overlapping tissue in 2-D studies.

“Tomosynthesis is very good for women with dense breast tissue or a history of fibrocystic disease, because it can penetrate through the tissue to see if things are worrisome or not,” said Memorial Hermann affiliated surgeon Kelly S. Dempsey, M.D., FASC, who specializes in diseases of the breast. “It does appear this technology is finding smaller tumors that would otherwise be missed until another year.” Large clinical studies of tomosynthesis have shown it significantly improves breast cancer detection while simultaneously reducing patient recall rates for additional testing.

In the study in which Parker participated – one that included more than 20,000 women – tomosynthesis helped radiologists increase overall cancer detection by 35 percent and an even higher 53 percent for more invasive cancers. Another clinical study published in Radiology, the scientific journal of the Radiological Society of North America, found that adding tomosynthesis to a conventional screening exam enabled radiologists to detect 40 percent more invasive cancers.

In Parker’s situation, there were no signs of cancer on her 2-D mammogram. However, the tomosynthesis detected tiny tumors in both of her breasts. One tumor was eight millimeters, the size of a screw head on a light switch. The other was four millimeters. Since receiving her cancer diagnosis nearly five years ago, Parker has undergone successful chemotherapy and surgery. Today, she is cancer-free and runs half marathons.