3D mammogram newest weapon against breast cancer

3D mammogram technology
3D mammogram technology
CBS News

Mammograms are already one of the most important tools in the fight against breast cancer.

About 40 million of them are performed in the U.S. each year, detecting between 80 and 90 percent of all breast cancers.

Now, there is a new advance. A woman in Boston became the first American to have a mammogram using 3D technology on Monday.

CBS News medical correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton reports that the new 3D technology may help doctors more accurately detect and diagnose breast cancer.

Five years ago, it took several mammograms and weeks of waiting before Laura Lang was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 50. Now, she's hoping the new 3D test is better.

"This machine for me is such a huge advance," Lang said. "It's something everyone should know about."

Doctors say the new test opens doors for better diagnoses.

"We have the ability to not only just look at the breast but actually look through and around structures we weren't able to see before," said Dr. Elizabeth Rafferty, director of breast imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Compared to the traditional 2D image, studies found it increases a doctor's ability to spot cancer by 7 percent. The 3D mammogram also reduces the number of women called back when a result is unclear.

"It's going to help us both find more cancers and decrease the number of false positive callbacks so that's huge. It makes the test, overall, more accurate,"  Raffery said.

However, some critics say it's more hype than help. The 3D mammogram uses more radiation than a traditional mammogram. It's expected to be more expensive, though the cost won't be set until it's widely available.

"Most importantly it hasn't been shown to save lives," said Fran Visco, president of the National Breast Cancer Coalition. "We love new technology, and we keep piling it on without a clear understanding of what the benefits are, and without really looking at what's the long term cost in women's lives."

The 3D mammogram is only available at Mass General, but is expected to be introduced at other medical centers nationwide this year.

Right now the technology is approved by the FDA but not yet recommended by major cancer groups or women's cancer groups.