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Medical study aims to better detect breast cancer through 3D imaging

Researchers in London, Ont. are looking to determine if a type of 3D imaging can better detect breast tissue abnormalities than a traditional 2D mammography. 

Researchers think the technology will be useful in detecting abnormalities in women with dense breast tissue

Mammography can't avert most breast cancer deaths, the head of the American Cancer Society says. (Enrique Castro-Mendivil/Reuters)

Researchers in London, Ont. are looking to determine if a type of 3D imaging can better detect breast tissue abnormalities than a traditional 2D mammography. 

According to the Lawson Health Research Institute, a conventional 2D mammogram results in a limited image as overlapping breast tissue, that occurs from the required compression of the breast, can hide breast abnormalities. 

On the other hand, researchers hypothesize that a breast tomosynthesis — a type of 3D imaging — can solve the challenges of a standard mammography.

"Our goal is to contribute to the body of evidence around tomosynthesis technology, and ultimately, we hope to improve the outcomes for women diagnosed with breast cancer, meaning earlier detection," said Dr. Anat Kornecki, Lawson scientist and radiologist at St. Joseph's in a statement. 

During a tomosynthesis, an x-ray tube moves in an arc over the compressed breast and captures images from different angles. The images are then reconstructed into a set of 3D images by a computer, allowing radiologists to examine the breast at multiple layers of breast. Researchers say this detailed imaging could be especially useful for women with dense breast tissue. 

Approximately 165,000 participants will be recruited for the trial, which will run in more than 100 centres across Canada, the United States and Argentina.

During the trial, women will be randomized to receive both a standard mammography plus the tomosynthesis.

For approximately four years, participants will undergo either an annual or biennial screening, depending on their risk factor for breast cancer. Then they will receive follow ups for at least three more years. 

Women scheduled through the Ontario Breast Screening Program for a breast exam at St. Joseph's hospital will receive a letter with the study's contact information. Eligible participants are enrolled at the time of their scheduled appointment. 

Researchers hope the study will allow radiologists to evaluate if the tomosynthesis will be more effective in detecting aggressive tumours.  

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