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Researchers hail promise of 3D breast scans for cancer detection

A type of breast scan called 3D mammography can detect significantly more potentially lethal tumours than traditional X-rays, research has shown.

The technique called tomosynthesis, which builds up a detailed three-dimensional picture of breast tissue, also reduces the number of patient recalls.

“It’s the most exciting improvement to mammography that I have seen in my career”

Emily Conant

Compared with conventional breast scans, the 3D imaging method, also known as digital breast tomosynthesis, increased detections of invasive cancer by 41%, US scientists found.

It also led to a 15% drop in unnecessary recalls for repeat scans due to false alarms, and a 29% higher detection rate for all breast cancers.

Senior author Dr Emily Conant, from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, said: “It’s the most exciting improvement to mammography that I have seen in my career, even more important for women than the conversion from film-screen mammography to digital mammography.

“3D mammography finds more clinically significant breast cancers earlier, which is the key so that women have more treatment options and ultimately better health outcomes,” she said.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, assessed nearly half a million conventional and 3D scans carried out at 13 US sites.

Baroness Morgan, chief executive of the Breast Cancer Campaign, said: “This is one of the largest studies to date to report that adding tomosynthesis to digital mammography appears to improve the accuracy of breast screening.

Baroness Delyth Morgan

Baroness Delyth Morgan

“These are promising results and we look forward to seeing the outcomes of adding tomosynthesis to digital mammography in other on-going trials, particularly the results of the UK TOMMY trial, which aims to assess whether tomosynthesis could enhance digital mammography in the UK.”

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