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Care Credit

Should I “Upgrade” to Digital or 3D? A Mammography Guide

July 2, 2019

Breast cancer claims countless lives every year. It is one of the most prevalent forms of cancers detected amongst women of all demographics. Fortunately, breast cancer is becoming easier to prevent through proactive measures. Mammograms, a common breast cancer screening method, are critical to the health care of women. As technology evolves, so too does mammography. With the introduction of 3D mammograms, doctors are able to determine cancer risks early, providing cutting-edge breast imaging. For many, 3D mammograms are becoming the preferred method of mammography.

A screening mammogram is a common procedure used for breast cancer screening. X-rays are administered to examine the woman’s breasts for early signs of cancer that may not be felt during routine physical examinations. The standard 2D mammogram can reveal small forms of cancer early, leading to quicker treatments and reduced death rates.

3D mammography offers a revolutionary method for breast cancer screening. Often referred to as Digital Breast Tomosynthesis, 3D mammography produces a three-dimensional image of the breast made up of a series of standard 2D images. The 3D images produced by this mammography method provide doctors with a detailed and accurate representation of the breast, allowing them to screen for cancer with greater accuracy and act accordingly should there be any cancers detected.

With a 3D mammogram, there tends to be a reduced need for further follow ups. 3D mammography produces such accurate imaging, doctors can quickly determine if the patient exhibits any cancer risk. Knowing if there are any risks with a high degree of certainty means fewer follow ups, and may eliminate any unnecessary biopsy procedures.

The differences between a 3D Mammogram and 2D Mammogram

There are many advantages to 3D mammography over traditional screening mammography. While 2D digital mammography techniques are a viable option for many women, the additional imaging produced in a 3D mammogram could lead to quicker response times and better forms of treatment. Clinical trials and research show the impact 3D mammograms have on determining cancer risk.

The 3D mammogram may detect cancer that standard 2D images are unable to pick up. This is made possible by capturing a more thorough image of the breast. While 2D digital mammography includes a top to bottom image, as well as a side to side image of the breast, 3D mammography is comprised of multiple images that make it possible to investigate any possible abnormality.

In addition to finding cancer that traditional screening mammograms may miss, 3D mammograms reduce the occurence of a false positive. False positives occur when the results incorrectly show signs of cancer risk. In standard 2D screening mammography, it is more likely for something to appear abnormal. Any abnormalities require follow up treatments, as well as potential procedures, such as a biopsy.

The overlap tissue in breasts could signal a false positive. Overlap tissue occurs when the tissue in the upper breast overlaps the tissue in the lower breast during compression. The compressed tissue may look abnormal in a 2D mammogram, whereas a Digital Breast Tomosynthesis makes it clear that tissue is overlapped.

Additionally, the overlapped tissue could conceal smaller cancers. If this happens, the cancer could go undiagnosed. Again, a 3D mammogram offers a more reliable reading of the tissue that leads to better assessment of any growths hidden within the tissue.

Perhaps those who would benefit most from a 3D mammogram are women with dense breasts. Dense breast tissue typically results from a higher than average amount of fibroglandular tissue. This is a fairly common occurrence amongst the female population. Because dense breast tissue could potentially mask signs of breast cancer, radiologists often request additional imaging.

Many doctors will recommend that women with dense breasts seek a 3D mammography as opposed to the standard 2D digital mammography. The 3D mammogram presents a fuller picture of the breast tissue, including areas of higher density that may be difficult to examine in a traditional screening mammogram.

Is a 3D Mammogram right for you?

3D mammograms are a preferred method of breast cancer screening, however, there are a few minor notes women should understand before deciding on 3D mammography. While the procedure is safe in every regard, it does expose women to low levels of radiation. This is because many times both a 3D mammogram and a 2D mammogram are administered. However, as technology continues to change, many modern machines capture both 3D and 2D mammograms simultaneously, effectively reducing the exposure levels of radiation.

It is also important to note that although 3D mammography produces the most accurate image of the breast tissue, there is still a possibility that small forms of cancer could be overlooked. This is why it is important to work with your doctor and make sure you are consistently taking the preventative measures and following routine exams.

Breast cancer presents a serious risk to women. It is a traumatic experience for those suffering from it, as well as their family and friends. Thankfully, there are exceptional preventative techniques that can help reduce the risk of breast cancer. One of the most accurate measures is the 3D mammogram. 3D mammography produces breast imaging that provide unmatched breast cancer screening with the woman’s health care in mind. Through 3D mammography, doctors can see through dense breast tissue to best catch cancer in its earliest stage. More and more, 3D mammograms are gaining favor over 2D mammograms in determining cancer risk. Please consult with your doctor to understand how a 3D mammogram can help you.