Innovations in Digital and 3-D Mammography: A New Oral History Collection

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Breast cancer is the most common cancer worldwide—surpassing lung cancer for the first time in 2020—and the most common cancer diagnosed in American women. It is a leading cause of cancer death in less developed countries and the second leading cause of cancer death in American women. Approximately one of every eight American women will develop breast cancer. Finding breast cancer early significantly increases the odds of survival, and the cost of treatment is lower.[source]

For many years, the "gold standard" for diagnosing breast cancer was film mammography, an x-ray-based technology designed to screen for breast cancer in women with no signs or symptoms. In 1973, the DuPont Company were the first to market a dedicated mammography system and emerged as the leader in selling film-based x-ray mammography systems. 

In 2000, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the sale of the first digital mammography systems in the United States. By that time, DuPont had sold off its x-ray film business and patents related to digital radiology and mammography. In 2011, the FDA approved digital breast tomosynthesis. Digital tomosynthesis, also known as 3-D mammography, uses a series of two-dimensional digital x-ray images to build a three-dimensional image. It is fast becoming the standard of care in breast cancer screening.

Today, just over twenty years since the FDA first approved the new technology, digital imaging comprises 99 percent of all mammograms, eliminating the need for x-ray film. The commercial success of digital mammography and digital breast tomosynthesis was due to the efforts of many people in many companies but, Hologic, Inc., was the early leader and continues to lead in the worldwide digital mammography market. Hologic based the underlying technology of their digital systems on work done by the DuPont company in the 1990s. 

Hagley's oral historian, Ben Spohn, conducted twenty-six hours of interviews with a number of the people involved in inventing, researching, and commercializing digital mammography and breast tomosynthesis at DuPont and Hologic. The discussions cover the development of digital radiology, mammography, and digital breast tomosynthesis (3-D mammography). Interviewees discuss the development and certification of the new technologies by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and equivalent international bodies, negotiations with the medical insurance industry, and the sale of the latest technologies to individual hospitals, clinics, healthcare systems, and other care providers. 

The interviews contain personal reflections on the healthcare industry, the research and development process, and the unique challenges of imaging breast tissue. They include discussions on the social impacts of their work and what it means to create systems capable of saving millions of lives. 

We are pleased to open this collection of interviews for research and we are tremendously grateful to all the participants who shared their stories. 

You can access the collection at the following link:  

A special thank you to Jim Culley who assisted with this article and played a critical role in coordinating the Hologic oral history project.