Doctors and scientists agree that early detection is the best defense against breast cancer. If we find cancer in its earliest stages, the chances of surviving it are good. Until now, the best way to do that has been with digital mammography.
Digital mammography uses a specially designed digital camera and a computer to produce an image that is displayed on a high-resolution computer monitor.
While digital mammography is still one of the most advanced technologies available today, it is only a two-dimensional picture of the breast. Since the breast is composed of pockets of dense tissue surrounded by fat, when x-rayed, it creates an image that looks something like a smoky haze. The overlapping tissue in the image makes it difficult to see tiny spots, called microcalcifications, and other subtle signs of early cancer.
For decades, doctors have been searching for a technology to help them find very small cancers, or rule out “false positives” and reduce the number of women who are called back for a diagnostic mammogram. Scientists have developed a technology called breast tomosynthesis, which has been shown in clinical studies to be superior to digital mammography.
Breast tomosynthesis uses high-powered computing to convert digital breast images into a stack of very thin layers or “slices” – building what is essentially a “3-dimensional mammogram”.
Now the radiologist can see breast tissue detail in a way never before possible. Instead of viewing all the complexities of your breast tissue in a flat image, the doctor can examine the tissue a millimeter at a time. Fine details are more clearly visible, no longer hidden by the tissue above and below.
A tomosynthesis exam is very similar to a traditional mammogram. Just as with a digital mammogram, the technologist will position you, compress your breast under a paddle and take images from different angles. A breast tomosynthesis exam may be used as a screening tool in conjunction with a traditional digital mammogram or may be used by itself for diagnostic mammogram.
During the tomosynthesis portion of the exam, your breast will be under compression while the x-ray arm of the mammography machine makes a quick arc over the breast, taking a series of breast images at a number of angles. This will only take a few seconds and all of the images are viewed by the technologist at their computer workstation to ensure they have captured adequate images for review by the radiologist.
The whole procedure time should be approximately the same as that of a digital mammogram. The technologist sends your breast images to the radiologist, who studies them and reports to either your physician or directly to you.