Regular mammograms are crucial in helping to prevent deaths as a result of breast cancer. But new research from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania suggests that 3D mammography is significantly more effective for breast cancer detection and leads to fewer patient recalls.

The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

According to the American Cancer Society, around 232,340 new cases of invasive breast cancer will have been diagnosed in women throughout 2013.

Conventional digital mammography is the most common screening method for breast cancer. This involves a standard 2D breast X-ray. But the researchers say this technique may flag findings that turn out to be non-cancerous.

The investigators note that these findings, known as “false positives,” lead to higher patient callback rates, meaning that some women are required to return for further scans or biopsies that may be unnecessary.

The researchers set out to see how breast screening using 3D mammography, also known as digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT), compared with screening using traditional digital mammography.

Tomosynthesis is a technology that works in a similar way to a computed tomography (CT) scan. It takes multiple images of the breast from different angles. These images can be viewed separately or put together as a 3D reconstruction of the breast tissue.

For the study, the research team looked at the imaging results from 15,633 women who underwent tomosynthesis at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP) and compared these with the imaging results of 10,753 women who underwent digital mammography.

The investigators note that all images were reviewed by six radiologists who were trained in tomosynthesis interpretation.

The results revealed that, compared with digital mammography, tomosynthesis reduced the average patient recall rate from 10.4% to 8.78%, and it increased the cancer detection rate by 22%, from 4.28 per 1,000 patients to 5.24.

Furthermore, the proportion of positive screening mammograms from which breast cancer was diagnosed increased by 46% with tomosynthesis, from 4.1% to 6%.

Commenting on their findings, Dr. Emily F. Conant, chief of breast imaging in the radiology department at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, says:

Our study showed that we reduced our callback rate and increased our cancer detection rate. The degree to which these rates were affected varied by radiologist. But importantly, the ratio of callback to cancer detection rate improved significantly for our radiologists.”

Dr. Conant says tomosynthesis is the most exciting improvement to mammography that she has seen in her career.

“The coming years will be very exciting, as we see further improvements in this innovative technology,” she adds.

Earlier this year, Medical News Today reported on a new imaging technique tested on mice that researchers say is able to detect subtypes of breast cancer and early treatment response.