FDA Approves 3-D Mammography Machine

Christine Leccese, for HealthLeaders Media, February 18, 2011

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last week approved the first three-dimensional (3-D) mammography machine. Already in use in several other countries, American hospitals can start adding these machines to their women's imaging centers and will likely improve breast cancer screening and treatment outcomes.

Radiologists found that the images created from the 3-D machine were better at detecting cancers, especially those found in women with dense breast tissue. The images also better allow them to see the difference between cancerous and noncancerous findings. Results of clinical trials showed a 15% increase in the amount of cancers caught, and a 30% decrease in callback rates. Approximately 10% of women proceed to further testing.

The 3-D imaging, also known as tomosynthensis, provides physicians with a picture that is remarkably different from current 2-dimensional mammography. Two-dimensional images deliver a flat representation of the breast tissue and the physician has to convert these images in his or her mind into a breast. Because of the overlapping tissue present in breasts, especially those with dense tissue, lesions may not always be visible.

Dr. Mary Hayes, MD, the medical director of Women's Imaging at Memorial Health Care System in Hollywood, Florida, says that the difference between 2D and 3D mammography is like the difference between looking at a closed book and looking at all the pages. "If there is a red dot on one of the pages and the book is closed, you can't see it. However, if you have a picture of each page of the book, you'll see that red dot."

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