A recent study conducted by Yale researchers, and presented at the RSNA 2017 meeting in Chicago, found that digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT), more commonly referred to as 3D mammography, identifies smaller breast cancer than traditional 2D screening mammograms.

While previous research has demonstrated that 3D mammography results in higher breast cancer detection rates and fewer false positives than digital screening mammograms—specific characteristics of cancers identified by the technology are not well understood.

“DBT is a relatively new technique in breast imaging, and available data on screen-detected cancers over several years of consecutive use is limited,” Dr. Maryam Etesami of Yale University School of Medicine and the Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale New Haven said.

The Study: Digital Mammograms Vs. 3D Mammograms

In the study, Dr. Etesami and her peers set out to identify cancer characteristics found by 3D mammograms. The team examined results from 44,050 screening mammograms completed between 2008 and 2016. More than 28,000 came from mammograms conducted between 2011 and 2016, and contained a combination of 3D mammography and 2D digital mammogram results.

The researchers found that 3D mammography better detected smaller cancers than its digital 2D counterpart, and that DBT had fewer positive axillary lymph nodes as well.

“As we know, axillary lymph node metastasis significantly increases morbidity and mortality of breast cancer,” Etesami said. “Our results show that DBT performs better than 2D mammography alone in what we expect from a screening tool, which is early detection of clinically significant cancers before they spread to axillary lymph nodes.”

The results are significant because once cancer spreads to lymph nodes it is harder to treat, and more deadly. The finding indicates that 3D mammography can improve outcomes for women diagnosed with early breast cancer.