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Considering a 3-D mammogram? 6 things you need to know

If you’ve had a mammogram in the last few years, chances are you’ve heard of 3-D mammography or “tomosynthesis.” You may have even had one by now. But if you haven’t, consider looking into it prior to your next screening. Recent studies have shown that 3-D mammograms may be more effective than standard digital 2-D mammograms because they provide a more comprehensive look at the breast.

Annual mammograms should begin at age 40 (unless your doctor recommends sooner based on your risk factors). If you’re considering having a 3-D mammogram at your next screening, let us answer some of the questions you might have.

1. How does it work?

3-D mammography is very similar to having a traditional 2-D mammogram. The images taken of your breast produce 3-D images of your breast tissue in one millimeter slices. This allows greater visibility for the radiologist to see breast tissue detail.

2. What can I expect?

Similar to a traditional 2-D mammogram, the technologist will position you, compress your breast and take images from different angles. 3-D mammography requires the same amount of compression as 2-D mammography and only takes a few seconds longer for each view. The x-ray arm sweeps in a slight arc over your breast, taking multiple breast images which are then converted into a 3-D image of your breast.

3. What are the benefits?

3-D digital mammography also provides a more consistent view of each mammogram image. By looking at the breast tissue in one millimeter slices, the radiologist can provide you with a more thorough assessment.

4. What are the risks?

3-D mammography is safe. The technology uses very low dose x-ray energy during the exam. The total patient dose for 3-D mammography is well within the FDA safety standards for mammography.

5. Is it better than a traditional mammogram?

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Recent studies have shown that 3-D mammography can detect up to 41 percent more invasive breast cancers and may reduce false positives by up to 40 percent—reducing the need to return for additional imaging.

In this way, 3-D mammography finds cancers that could potentially be missed with conventional 2-D mammography. Talk to your doctor to determine the best type of exam for you.

6. Will it be covered by my insurance?

It depends on what type of insurance you have. Some insurance companies don’t yet cover 3-D mammograms and some of them assess a surcharge for the exam. Talk to your insurance provider to find out if 3-D mammograms are covered under your plan.

Mammograms are the most effective early detection method available for breast cancer. Learn more, or schedule a mammogram today at your local breast imaging center.

About the author

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Megan Fitzpatrick, MD, is a diagnostic radiologist on the medical staff at Baylor University Medical Center.

Considering a 3-D mammogram? 6 things you need to know