Tomosynthesis improves cancer detection in dense breast tissue by nearly 70%

It is estimated that nearly half of all women have dense breast tissue, a condition that presents a unique problem to doctors and patients: not only does dense breast tissue increase the chance of developing breast cancer, but it also makes cancer detection via mammography more difficult.

Now researchers have discovered that digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT) can dramatically improve breast cancer detection in women with dense breast tissue when compared to traditional mammography methods, according to results presented at the ARRS 2015 Annual Meeting in Toronto.

“There are a lot of data showing that screening with DBT increases cancer detection, but much less is known about the effect of density and lesion type on detection rates,” said coauthor Caroline Ling, MD, of Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia, in a press release.

Ling and colleagues performed a retrospective review of all breast cancer screening studies performed at their institution over the course of a 30-month time period in which patients received digital mammography or DBT. Breast density, lesion type and callback rates were recorded, analyzed and compared among both modalities.

Their results showed that the cancer detection rate in patients with dense breasts was 4 percent for those undergoing DBT, compared to 2.4 percent for those receiving digital mammography, resulting in a 67 percent increase in cancer detection. Additionaly the cancer detection rate in nondense breasts increased by 20 percent using DBT.

“Overall cancer detection was greater in the DBT group relative to the digital mammography group,” wrote Ling et al. “However, the most striking increase was cancer detection among women with dense breasts called back for mass and asymmetry relative to nondense breasts.”

While their results are promising for the continuing utilization of DBT for breast cancer screening, Ling and colleagues suggested a need for a more comprehensive study, concluding that “[a] larger study is needed to determine statistical significance” of their findings.