A new type of 3D digital X-ray technology has been found to detect 40% more breast cancers than traditional mammography, a study has found.
Breast tomosynthesis works on the same principle as tomography, meaning that X-ray images of the breast are acquired from different angles which can then show multiple thin layers of the breast.
Traditional mammography sees all the breast tissue reproduced in a single image which can hinder the early detection of tumours.
In the first trial comparing the two methods, scientists at Lund University in Sweden tested 7,500 women aged from 40 to 74 and detected breast cancer in 68 of them.
Of these, 46 cases were detected by both methods, 21 by tomosynthesis alone and one by mammogram alone.
The alternative technique has a number of other benefits, such as being more comfortable for women as breast compression is halved, and gives lower radiation doses than in traditional mammography.
But researchers added that drawbacks include a risk of over-diagnosis - as with mammography - and an increase in recall rates, meaning the trial saw more healthy women with benign lesions recalled for further testing.
The new system is also more expensive.
"Breast tomosynthesis will be introduced, it is just a question of when and on what scale," the authors said.
"We see five to 10 years from now as a possible time frame for the large-scale introduction of the technique.
"There is also an aspiration for more personalised screening, and breast tomosynthesis could therefore be one of several methods used."