breast cancer

Mammogram Study Could Change Breast Cancer Screenings

“It's one of the most important studies around breast cancer screening that we've had for over a decade"

NBC Universal, Inc.

Thousands of local women are taking part in a groundbreaking clinical trial that could impact the way breast cancer is screened.

Researchers are comparing traditional 2D mammograms with 3D mammograms to see if 3D imaging is better at detecting life-threatening breast cancers. Kaiser Permanente, where Dr. Ainsley MacLean is a radiologist, is taking part in the clinical trial.

“It's one of the most important studies around breast cancer screening that we've had for over a decade,” MacLean said.

The study is funded by the National Cancer Institute. More than 120,000 women nationwide are participating and being tracked over the course of five years.

Both 2D and 3D mammograms are FDA approved and proven to save lives. While 2D mammograms take pictures from two sides of the breast to create a flat image, 3D mammograms take images from different angles to create 3D-like images that allow radiologists to scroll through layer by layer of breast tissue, looking for signs of anything suspicious.

“This newer technology is more sensitive, so it shows more things in women's breast. But does that mean that it saves more lives than 2D mammograms? And that question still remains unknown,” MacLean said.

Researchers will use the study to find if 3D mammograms save more lives and if some women may benefit from the newer technology more than others.

“And this is not yet known, but areas we suspect it will likely be, are in women with dense breasts, women who may have a higher risk for breast cancer because of strong family history,” MacLean said.

Among those enrolled is 69-year-old Janet Dale, a retiree from Bethesda, Maryland. She said she knows the devastating toll cancer can have.

“On my mother's side, I had two aunts who had breast cancer with metastasis before menopause, and then my mother died of ovarian cancer,” Dale said.

Due to her family history, she started getting mammograms when she was 38. Now, she’s taking part in the study to help further the science.

“It's exciting to know that this trial will be able to give the answer as to what is the optimal type of mammography to do for breast cancer screening,” Dale said. “It was a win-win benefit-burden ratio, really not significant burden and great benefit for especially answering the question.”

Each year, breast cancer kills more than 42,000 women in the U.S., but many patients are likely to survive if the disease is caught early. Still, the newer 3D technology remains out of reach for a lot of people.

“Only 40% of accredited mammography units in the United States are 3D mammography units,” MacLean said.

That’s why the results of this study are so important, MacLean said.  

“If this study shows that 3D mammography is really the way that we need to go, either in these subgroups or in the general patient population, average women risk for breast cancer, then every corner of this country is going to need to convert to 3D mammograms,” MacLean said.

Kaiser Permanente Kensington Medical Center continues to enroll people in the study. For more information, including enrollment criteria, visit:

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