What is 3D Mammography?

What is 3D Mammography?

What is 3D Mammography?

As we make our way towards breast cancer awareness month, you’ve hopefully been thinking about what type of breast cancer screenings you may need. Clinical breast exam? Mammogram? 3D mammogram?

3D mammography is a relatively new method for finding breast cancer. There are many potential benefits and risks that come with 3D mammograms. Here we answer some of the most pressing questions.

How do 3D mammograms differ from traditional mammograms?

Traditional or 2D mammograms, use X-ray technology for imaging, which means it only takes two images of the breast: side-to-side and top-to-bottom. Breast tissue can overlap in a 2D mammogram which can lead to inaccurate results, such as by masking cancerous tissue or making benign tissue appear suspicious.

3D mammograms, on the other hand, uses CT or cat-scan technology to take multiple X-ray images from many angles to make a 3-dimensional picture of each breast. 3D mammograms may lower the number of false alarms that come with overlapping tissue, chiefly in dense breast tissue. This could prevent unnecessary re-testing and extra appointments, patient stress and worry.

There is also less compression of the breast in a 3D mammogram, which could make breast cancer screenings more comfortable for patients.

What are the risks and limitations of 3D mammograms?

Because cat-scan technology generally exposes patients to more radiation than an X-rays when imaging a similar body area, plus many patients who get a 3D mammogram may also still also get a traditional 2D mammogram, the amount of radiation they are exposed to is higher. Since radiation exposure can cause cancer, this can be a concern. But, new modifications may reduce the amount of radiation exposure that comes with getting a mammogram.  Also, the overall benefit of breast cancer screening whether by 2D or 3D mammogram outweigh any potential radiation exposure risks.

Although 3D mammograms show some promise in improving health outcomes, there is still not enough research to determine if 3D mammograms should be the standard way to screen for breast cancer compared to 2D mammograms.  The U.S. Preventive Task Force currently recognizes both traditional 2D and 3D mammography as equally acceptable screening methods.

Are 3D mammograms covered?

3D mammograms may be covered by your health plan. You should call the number on the back of your member ID card for more information.

How often should I get a mammogram?

The U.S. Preventive Task Force leaving site icon recommends that women between the ages of 50 and 74 get a mammogram every two years. Women between the ages of 40 and 49 should talk to their doctor about when they should start getting mammograms.

If you have an increased risk for breast cancer, talk to your doctor about screening tests, no matter how old you are. Breast cancer risk factors include having:

  • A personal history of breast cancer
  • A family history of breast cancer
  • Certain gene mutations such as BRCA1 and BRCA2
  • Received radiation treatments to the breast or chest area

Check with your doctor if you have questions about mammograms or other breast cancer screenings.

Learn more about Mammogram Screenings leaving site icon in this video.

Sources: Mammograms, leaving site icon National Cancer Institute;  Digital Tomosynthesis, leaving site icon Breastcancer.org; Breast Cancer: Screening leaving site icon U.S. Preventive Task Force

Originally published November 16, 2015; Revised 2019 Updated 8/23/2019