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Digital Breast Tomosynthesis Has Advantage Over Traditional Mammograms

Breast cancer imaging Penn
 A revolutionary way to perform mammograms combining traditional mammography with 3D technology, called digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT), allows for more accurate pictures of breast health.

Every woman who comes to the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine (PCAM) for their screening mammograms gets the DBT test.

“DBT is more accurate – even more accurate than digital mammograms – because it uses traditional X-ray technology to capture images of the breast, while moving along a small arc around the breast to record images at different depths and angles,” said Emily Conant, MD, director of women’s imaging at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. “DBT has been shown to reduce the number of false-positives and some false-negatives making mammography more accurate.”

Like a traditional mammogram, the breast is compressed for about four to five seconds while a series of low-dose X-rays are taken to capture high-resolution images of the breast. These images are then digitally “stacked” to construct a total 3D image of the breast. This 3D image allows radiologists to scroll through, and “peel apart” the layers of the breast to view the breast tissue at different depths and angles. Radiologists can also magnify images to reveal minute details.

“DBT allows Penn radiologists to manipulate and see parts of the breast that we couldn’t before,” says Dr. Conant. “Therefore, we can reduce some unnecessary imaging and stress for some women.”

Breast images through DBT also allow radiologists to make new recommendations for follow-up screening and tests.

“DBT lets us see through some of the areas of density in a breast,” said Dr. Conant. “For a woman with dense breasts, this means better detection and cancer and fewer false positives.”

Women who get their mammograms using the DBT technology may find they are called back less often for follow-up visits and additional testing.

These imaging advantages and advances in risk assessment are part of a collaborative effort between radiologists, medical oncologists and surgeons to try to improve breast cancer detection for women.

Technology continues to evolve, but collaborative research across all disciplines at Penn Medicine means patients who come to Penn for their mammograms benefit from the latest medical breakthroughs. 

“DBT is just one more step to improving breast care on an individual, personalized basis,” said Dr. Conant. “Combining personal history, genetic testing and breast images creates a better, overall picture for breast health.”

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The Focus on Cancer blog discusses a variety of cancer-related topics, including treatment advances, research efforts and clinical trials, nutrition, support groups, survivorship and patient stories.

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