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3-D Scan May Help Detect Breast Cancer

Study: Stereoscopic Mammography May Have Advantages Over Standard Mammography
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Nov. 28, 2007 (Chicago) -- A novel imaging scan that offers a 3-D view of the breast appears to be more accurate at spotting breast cancer than currently used techniques, researchers report.

The method, called stereoscopic digital mammography, reduced the number of false positives by 49%, compared with standard digital mammography, says David J. Getty, PhD, division scientist at BBN Technologies of Cambridge, Mass.

"This means many fewer women would be unnecessarily recalled for additional diagnostic workups, resulting in reduced health care costs and patient anxiety," he tells WebMD.

The number of false negatives -- missed cancers -- was cut by nearly 40%, says Getty, who has been working on the development of the technology over the past 12 years.

That finding could have been due to chance. But Getty says he thinks that it will take on what researchers call statistical significance -- meaning there's less than five-in-100 odds that it is due to chance -- as more women are studied.

Getty presented results of the first 1,093 women to be enrolled in a trial pitting stereoscopic digital mammography against standard digital mammography in women at high risk of breast cancer at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.

By the end of the five-year trial this December, 1,500 women will have been enrolled.

Creating a 3-D Breast Image

Carl D'Orsi, MD, director of the breast imaging center at Emory University in Atlanta, where the trial is being conducted, says another advantage of the new technique is that it reduced by 80% the number of missed calcium lesions in the breast.

"These lesions are the first indicator of the earliest type of breast cancer, ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)," he tells WebMD. In DCIS, cancer cells have not yet spread beyond the ducts of the breast, so it is highly curable.

Getty says that standard mammography exams, in which radiologists take two two-dimensional pictures of the breast (one vertical, one side-to-side), are difficult to interpret.

"Subtle lesions may be masked by underlying or overlying normal tissue," he says. "And normal tissue scattered at different depths can align to mimic a lesion, leading to false positives."

Stereoscopic digital mammography gets around those problems by giving the radiologist a picture of the entire breast in depth, Getty says.

Each of two digital X-ray images taken from two different points of view is merged on a stereo display workstation to create a 3-D view of the breast.

"It's like seeing a 3-D movie with polarized glasses," he says.

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