Seeing mammograms like never before

LOS ANGELES When radiologist Dr. Carl D'orsi puts on a pair of special glasses, he sees mammograms in a way they've never been seen before.

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"It's sort of a 'wow' factor when you first look at it," said Dr. D'orsi.

He's the first doctor in the U.S. to test a new diagnostic tool called stereoscopic digital mammography. Instead of seeing a mammogram as a flat picture, this technique fuses two images to show the breast in 3-D. Polarized glasses bring the images together.

"All of a sudden, you have depth. All of a sudden, you can tell what's behind something, what's in front of something, what depth something is at," said Dr. D'orsi. "It's like, 'Oh my God, this is like I'm seeing the world.'"

In a three-year Emory University study, stereo mammography found more abnormalities and reduced false-positive test results by 39 percent compared to standard mammograms. Stereo also had 79 percent accuracy, while standard mammograms had 57 percent.

"It's exciting. It's very exciting," said Dr. D'orsi.

Dr. D'orsi says for patients, this diagnostic tool could mean quicker diagnosis, fewer recalls for more testing, and less anxiety.

Marilyn Cook knows mammograms all too well, and what the waiting and worrying can be like. Cook had breast cancer.

"If they can prevent other women from having to be recalled, you know, for a second one and a third one and ultrasound, what an amazing process is that?" said Cook.

Marilyn was lucky. A mammogram led to early diagnosis and treatment of her breast cancer. Now she worries about her daughter's future, and hopes breakthroughs like stereo mammography can mean more success stories like her own.

"Two years and a couple of months -- cancer free. Survivor. I'm a survivor," said Cook.

Experts say stereo mammography also detects more lesions and reduces the number of women called back for additional tests. It's still in the testing stages, but Dr. D'orsi believes stereo mammography holds a great deal of promise for future breast cancer screening.

For more information:

Background: Mammograms have been called the most important tool doctors have to diagnose, evaluate and follow women who have had breast cancer. An X-ray of the breast, mammograms are able to spot cysts, tumors and other unusual growth in the breast in hopes of treating them earlier and improving a woman's chance of survival. While mammograms do not prevent breast cancer, they play an important role in detection and effective management of the disease. Studies show mmammograms lower the risk of dying from breast cancer by 35 percent in women over the age of 50. For women between the ages of 40 and 50, they may lower the risk of dying from breast cancer by 25 percent to 35 percent. The National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society and the American College of Radiology all recommend women get an annual mammogram when they reach 40 years of age. However, if breast cancer runs in a woman's family, especially in young women, experts recommend screenings before age 40.

Imperfect technology: Mammograms aren't 100 percent accurate. Like an X-ray, standard mammograms appear in black, grey and white in two dimensions. Sometimes, growths can be hidden by surrounding breast tissue, resulting in a false negative result. Other times, normal tissues in the breast can look unusual, causing a false positive. When this happens, women are asked to return for follow-up mammograms and may even need to have biopsy surgery, only to find out they are healthy. While this is an obvious relief, women are sent on an emotional roller coaster, causing unnecessary distress, and are left with expensive medical bills for a condition they didn't have. Researchers are constantly working on new and better ways to detect breast abnormalities, but no device has yet to replace the traditional mammogram as the standard, due in part to the financial cost of other methods and limited availability of other machines.

The next generation: Stereoscopic digital mammography is the latest breast cancer detection method to be tested. Consisting of two digital X-ray images of the breast taken from two different points of view, separated by about eight degrees, stereo mammograms give doctors a three dimensional view of a woman's breast. When the two images are fused together and viewed on a stereo display with special glasses, doctors can see behind, inside and around tissue to get a more accurate look at the breast.

A clinical trial underway at Emory University in Atlanta is showing promising results in reducing false positive and false negative results with stereo mammograms. Also, researchers have found stereo mammograms detect more lesions and reduce the number of women called back for additional tests. False positive findings were reduced by 49 percent, compared with standard mammography, while false negative results and missed lesions were reduced by 40 percent.


Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University
(404) 778-1900


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