Getting a mammogram is a regular part of women's health care in the United States. Doctors rely on the X-ray image to detect the suspicious anomalies that are the markers of breast cancer.
But many doctors consider the standard two-dimensional X-rays to be a poor screening device. Dr. Negar Golesorkhi, a breast surgeon who practices in Virginia, says finding a tumor with standard mammography is like "finding a polar bear in the snow."
Until recently, that was the best diagnostic tool doctors had.
A few years ago, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved 3-D technology for mammograms. Dr. Sarah Friedewald at Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Illinois, has just completed a study of 450,000 women who had both 2-D and 3-D mammograms.
She found the differences astounding. Tumors that are difficult to spot on a standard mammogram are easy to see on 3-D images.
"We found invasive cancers ... the ones that potentially kill people more frequently in women who had a 3-D mammogram versus the women who had a 2-D mammogram," Dr. Friedewald said.
At the same time, she said the 3-D mammogram produced fewer false positives, so fewer women had to return for further testing or painful, unnecessary biopsies than those who had standard mammograms.
At least one other recent study shows nearly identical results. The 3-D mammograms found close to 30 percent more cancerous tumors than standard mammography, and with 3-D technology, there was slightly more than a 40 percent increase in the finding invasive cancers.
Three-dimensional mammograms are so much better at finding cancerous breast tumors that Dr. Friedewald told VOA she expects the technology to eventually replace the standard 2-D mammogram most women receive.
Her study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association