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The Boston Globe

Health & wellness

G Cover

Digital 3-D mammograms show promise

Device companies race to improve breast cancer screening, but the effectiveness of new methods is still being studied

With mammograms coming under harsh scrutiny in recent years for failing to detect some breast cancers while also raising false alarms that warrant biopsies, imaging device manufacturers have been racing to get better breast cancer screening tools into clinical practice. So far, a new digital 3-D mammogram — called breast tomosynthesis — has shown the most promise in dramatically reducing the number of women called back for suspicious-looking findings that turn out to be benign and detecting tumors not revealed on the traditional 2-D X-ray.

But the potential benefits of the new technology remain up for debate, since it arrives as the value of mammography screening is being questioned. Critics say it prevents only a small number of breast cancer deaths but increases the number of women treated for early non-aggressive cancers that might otherwise have gone undetected and never would have spread. Some cancer specialists, though, have passionately argued against deterring women from breast cancer screening since science can’t determine which cancers might become deadly.

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