A new type of 3D digital X-ray technology can detect 40 per cent more breast cancers than traditional mammography, a large-scale study has found.
Breast tomosynthesis works on the same principle as tomography, which means that X-ray images of the breast are captured from different angles. These can then show multiple thin layers of the breast.
In comparison, a mammography reproduces all the breast tissue in a single image, hindering the early detection of tumours.
The first part of the study compared the two methods and involved 7,500 women aged between 40 and 74 being tested by scientists at Lund University in Sweden. The study detected breast cancer in 68 of them.
Of these cases, 46 were detected by both methods, 21 by tomosynthesis alone and one by mammogram alone.
The new 3D technique has a number of other benefits, such as being more comfortable for women as breast compression is halved and gives lower radiation doses than in traditional mammography.
“We see a change as inevitable. Breast tomosynthesis will be introduced, it is just a question of when and on what scale,” the authors said.
However, researchers added that drawbacks include a risk of over-diagnosis – as with mammography – and an increase in recall rates, meaning the trial saw more healthy women with benign lesions recalled for further testing.
“We see five to ten years from now as a possible timeframe for the large-scale introduction of the technique", said Sophia Zackrisson, one of the researchers.
“There is also an aspiration for more personalised screening and breast tomosynthesis could therefore be one of several methods used.”
The new system is currently more expensive than traditional mammography.