WASHINGTON (AFP) - The largest study of its kind to date has shown that three-dimensional imaging finds more breast cancers than traditional mammography alone, according to research published on Tuesday.
The technique, called 3D mammography, or tomosynthesis, was approved by US regulators in 2011 after initial research showed it could reduce false-positives and improve cancer detection.
"This study confirms what we already know: 3D mammography finds more of the invasive, harmful cancers we want found and saves women the anxiety and cost of having additional exams for what turns out to be a false alarm," said study co-author Donna Plecha, director of breast imaging at University Hospitals Case Medical Center.
The study in the Journal of the American Medical Association included nearly half a million mammograms taken at 13 different US sites.
It found a 41 per cent increase in invasive cancers found with 3D imaging over digital mammography alone, and a 29 per cent increase in the detection of all kinds of breast cancer.
The researchers also found that 3D technology resulted in 15 per cent fewer recalls for false alarms.
However, the study was not randomized and did not focus on whether the increase in detection translated into longer survival after diagnosis, so more research is needed, the authors said.
Breast cancer kills some 40,000 women in the United States each year.
An accompanying editorial in JAMA described the results as "promising" but not enough to settle the long-running debate over how often women should be screened for breast cancer and what type of technology should be used.
"Tomosynthesis is likely an advance over digital mammography for breast cancer screening, but fundamental questions about screening remain, with all available technologies," said the editorial by doctors at the University of Toronto and the Medical University of South Carolina.
"Clear consensus is lacking on when to screen, how often, and with what tools, or even which screen-detected cancers could be managed more conservatively," they wrote.
The editorial called on the US National Institutes of Health to fund a multi-site randomized trial that compares modern technology to address these questions.
Currently, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends women get one mammogram per year starting at age 40.