Two thousand women are being recruited in Ottawa for a large North American study on 3D mammograms, known as digital tomosynthesis technology.

The study is trying to determine whether 3D screening is more effective in detecting breast cancer than the usual 2D mammograms currently used.

An Ottawa doctor is leading the Canadian research.

Elaine Finlay is one of the participants, feeling pretty lucky to be part of the study.  Finlay was scheduled for a routine mammogram in January at the Ottawa Hospital Breast Health Centre but as part of this study, she had a 3D one. It detected the smallest of suspicious lumps.  

“I'm not worried,” she says, “It is small, about 7 millimeters.”

The Breast Health Centre is hoping to recruit 2000 women like Finlay and Carolle Anderson over the next two years as part of a multi-centre study on tomosynthesis.  The full Tomosynthesis Mammographic Imaging Screening Trial (TMIST) will involve 90 sites across Canada and the United States and include 165,000 women.

“This 3D image created might be part of our future,” says Anderson, “so if that's how we work in the future, I’d like to be part of it as well.”

The machine looks the same as any other mammographic imaging tool but unlike your typical mammogram that takes one image, a 3D mammogram takes a series of angled images, layered into a pseudo 3D view, offering a richer and clearer image and potentially helping avoid missing cancers that may be hidden by surrounding breast tissue. 

Dr. Jean Seely is leading the Canadian study.  Seely is the head of Breast Imaging at The Ottawa Hospital Breast Health Centre and an associate professor at the University of Ottawa.  She says 2D imaging can miss about 15% of cancers or give women false positives. For every 100 women who are recalled for additional testing, more than 90 of them will have a normal finding or benign disease.   Initial studies with tomosynthesis have indicated can reduce false positives by as much as much as 40% and reduce the need for repeat screening.

“Some of the studies have shown us that we pick up more cancers with the tomosynthesis, with the 3D technique,” says Dr. Seely, “Up to 40% more cancers are picked up so that's a huge impact.”

Dr. Dugal Seely, her brother, is helping fund the study.  He heads up the Ottawa Integrative Cancer Centre (OICC) that sees a lot of women with breast cancer.

“I'd say at least 40% to 50% of our patient population are women dealing with breast cancer or a history of breast cancer,” says Dr. Dugal Seely, “This is the majority of patients we see so one of the things they experience with that is the burden of the potential for cancer, so if that can be improved, it's a real step forward.”

Breast cancer is still the leading cause of death for women between the ages of 40 and 50.  At the Ottawa Hospital, one thousand new cases are diagnosed every year.

“We're hoping to detect the cancers that are aggressive, potentially lethal cancers at an earlier age,” says Dr. Jean Seely, “which means we have a better impact on their outcomes so we can reduce the mortality of breast cancer even further.”

Elaine Finlay had a biopsy on that lump; she will find out the results of that tomorrow.

“I'm really not worried,” she says, “but thank God for the technology, really.”

Women who want to participate need to be referred to the Ottawa Hospital Breast Health Centre by their family doctor.  They have to be over 40, with no personal history of breast cancer and no implants.