Advancements in Breast Cancer Screening

Many women with breast cancer have no symptoms. That’s why the goal of mammography is to find breast cancer early—before symptoms appear and the cancer can be treated successfully. Thankfully for women, the prevention and detection of breast cancer continues to advance and save lives.

3-D mammography

“Tomosynthesis or 3-D mammography is evolving into the standard of care for breast cancer screening,” says Kerri Hesley, M.D., radiologist and medical director of Women’s Imaging at DIS and Meritus Center for Breast Health.

Tomosynthesis is a 3-D imaging platform that takes a slice-by-slice approach to detecting breast cancer. It can be thought of as similar to a CT scan of the breast. Using 3-D images, radiologists can incrementally look behind each structure—similar to peeling an onion. This more precise view of breast tissue translates to a decrease in false-positives or call backs and the need to request additional imaging because of abnormal findings.

“Fewer call backs mean less time, anxiety and cost incurred by women,” says Dr. Hesley. 3-D mammography also presents a clearer images of dense breast tissue—often common in younger patients. The higher sensitivity of 3-D imaging also allows for the detection of smaller or multiple tumors. “It’s great when technology gets both things right—an increase in imaging sensitivity and a decrease in false-positives,” says Dr. Hesley.

An individualized approach

Breast cancer screening is moving from a one-size-fits-all approach to a selection of screening tools for high-risk individuals. “There’s an evolving science of managing different patient populations,” says Dr. Hesley. In the near future, Meritus Center for Breast Health and DIS will team together to screen patients for their overall risk of developing breast cancer.

Currently, Meritus Center for Breast Health offers an individualized approach to help women understand the “what and why” of their medical history and breast imaging results. A certified breast cancer specialist meets with patients to discuss their risk of developing breast cancer and if needed, creates a personalized screening and prevention plan, offers genetic testing and presents options to reduce cancer risk.

Earlier detection

The American Cancer Society, American Medical Association, American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American College of Radiology, the National Cancer Institute and Dr. Hesley agree that women at average risk of developing breast cancer should be eligible for regular mammography screening starting at age 40.

The 10-year risk of breast cancer for a 40-year-old woman of average risk is one in 68 compared to one in 42 for a 50-year-old woman. Although less common in younger women, breast cancer when diagnosed at an earlier age, is often more aggressive warns Dr. Hesley.

“Diagnosis of breast cancer at an early tumor stage is key to saving lives,” says Dr. Hesley. “That’s why regular mammography is so important.”