Detecting Breast Cancer In Dense Breasts: Do Sonograms, 3-D Mammography Help?

Women with extremely dense breasts are not only at increased risk of malignancy; radiological scans are less likely to detect their cancers. A pair of new studies look at two ways to improve breast cancer detection in such women: sonograms and 3-D scanning techniques, according to this report from the Los Angeles Times.

The conclusion of both studies suggests that for women with dense breasts – which both raises a woman’s risk of breast cancer and makes such malignancies harder to find on an imaging scan – 3-D mammography [also known as tomosynthesis] might be a better cancer screening technique than standard mammography-plus-ultrasonography.

Breasts are considered dense if they have a lot of fibrous or glandular tissue but not much fatty tissue. Research has shown that dense breasts are more likely to develop cancer, a problem compounded by the fact that cancer in dense breasts can be difficult to detect on mammograms.

The studies are published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, and the second presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.

In a head-to-head comparison of mammography alone with 3-D mammography for women with dense breasts, the second study found that digital tomosynthesis significantly increased the cancer detection rate. Researchers performed both types of scans on more than 25,000 women, ages 50 to 69, and categorized the women by the density of their breasts.

Among women with dense breasts, researchers detected 80% of 132 breast cancers when they read the scan results generated by digital mammography-plus-tomosynthesis. When reading mammographic scans alone, researchers detected only 59% of those breast cancers.

Read the full story in the Los Angeles Times, and read our prior discussion of 3-D mammography at this link.

[Image Credit: American Society of Radiology, Source: Los Angeles Times]

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