What is Digital Tomosynthesis?
Digital tomosynthesis is one of the newer methods of breast imaging used for breast cancer screening. This technology, also known as digital breast tomosynthesis, is essentially a three-dimensional kind of digital mammography.
What is a Mammogram?
In a traditional mammogram, a low-dose x-ray is used to produce an image of compressed breast tissue. Usually, two x-rays are taken, one from the top to the bottom and one from side to side. This allows doctors to look for any abnormalities in the breast tissue, such as tumors, which are denser than normal tissue and look like white lumps in the resulting breast image.
Mammograms vs. Digital Tomosynthesis
In digital tomosynthesis, a low-dose x-ray is moved in an arc around the breast, capturing multiple images from different angles. These images are then combined into a more comprehensive, 3-D image of the breast tissue. Many doctors prefer digital tomosynthesis because it can be easier to spot abnormalities that might remain hidden in traditional digital mammograms, which only use two images to try and capture the whole breast. Studies are currently underway to provide more concrete evidence that digital tomosynthesis will improve diagnoses, but for the time being there is little doubt about its technical advantages.
Early Detection & Digital Tomosynthesis
Mammography screening has been a key element of breast cancer screening and early detection for years, and continues to be so, but digital tomosynthesis may become the new standard in care. The technology has been approved by the FDA, but is new enough that it isn’t commonplace in hospitals and doctors’ offices. As it becomes more and more available, digital tomosynthesis will become an important tool to diagnose breast cancer at an early stage and improve survival rates.
Who Should Use Digital Tomosynthesis?
Mammography screening is recommended by the Maurer Foundation for all women over 40, despite controversial headlines that may suggest it isn’t necessary (if you want to learn more, read our founder Dr. Virginia Maurer’s statement on mammograms). If a woman opted to seek digital tomosynthesis instead of a traditional mammogram, the same recommendations would apply.
Regardless of the kind of breast imaging technique your doctor uses, we encourage all women to be take ownership of their own breast health, completing monthly breast self-exams and scheduling annual clinical breast exams. The technology may change, but the importance of early detection is constant!