More hospitals offer women 3D mammograms despite concerns it may lead to overdiagnosis of breast cancer

Unhappy female patient and doctor
More than 3,900 of the 8,726 certified mammography facilities now have 3D mammography or digital breast tomosynthesis, according to the FDA. (Getty/AlexRaths)

Although some experts worry that 3D mammograms may lead to overdiagnosis and overtreatment of breast cancer, more hospitals across the country now offer women the option of either a 2D or 3D scan when they schedule their mammograms.

The latest figures from the Food and Drug Administration indicate that more than 3,900 of the 8,726 certified mammography facilities now have 3D mammography or digital breast tomosynthesis. Last January slightly more than 3,000 facilities offered the upgraded imaging.

Among the latest hospital systems to provide 3D screenings: CHI Health in Nebraska, which offers it exclusively in all its imaging departments at eight of its hospitals, according to Live Well Nebraska. The upgraded imaging offers better views and more information than standard mammograms, Catherine E. Mendlick, M.D., a radiologist at CHI Health Lakeside Hospital, told the publication. She says it is also a better option for the 40% of women who have dense breasts and may need extra screening.

But Otis Brawley, M.D., chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society, told VOA News that even if newer technology finds cancers that the 2D version doesn’t, there are downsides. “There are potential cons in that it has a higher cost, higher amount of radiation, given every dose, every time a person has a test, as well as it may find a higher number of false positives,” he said.

And it’s still unclear whether the 3D images actually save more lives than the traditional 2D version. That’s why the National Cancer Institute is funding a large-scale randomized trial to determine whether 3D scans actually do a better job of finding life-threatening breast cancers. Researchers are recruiting 165,000 women to participate in the five-year study.

“The most important thing about this study is that it’s moving us to individualized screening as opposed to what we have now, which is one-size-fits-all screening,” study chair Etta Pisano, M.D., a radiologist at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, told the AP last month. “We are going to have a much better understanding of how to screen women so that we do the least amount of harm.”

Meanwhile, hospitals aren’t taking any chances. Ellenville Regional Hospital in New York will soon be offering the upgraded technology, the Times-Herald Record reports. Granville Health System in North Carolina began offering the imaging in late December, according to The Daily Dispatch.

Vicki Jordan, imaging operations manager at Baptist Hospital in Florida, says the organization has seen the benefit of 3D images for years. She told WearTV that since the hospital added 3D mammograms six years ago, it has found masses more quickly and likely saved lives as a result.

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