3D Mammography

A new dimension in mammography

Medical science is demonstrating that three-dimensional (3D) viewing isn’t just for entertainment. Adding a dimension of depth to traditional flat images can help physicians see physical structures under the skin. One of the exciting new ways physicians are using 3D to improve diagnostic testing is with 3D mammography.

Early detection saves lives

One out of every eight women was at risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016. Eight out of nine women who are diagnosed with breast cancer will have no prior family history of the disease. Early detection is still the number-one way to beat breast cancer. Mammography, self-exams and other preventative screenings are key to getting an early diagnosis.

If you undergo a 3D mammogram — also known as breast tomosynthesis — you’ll discover the experience is very similar to having a conventional, 2D mammogram. The breast is compressed between two plates, and the images are created with the same X-ray technology.

The difference is that the machine moves in an arc across the breast, taking several more images than with traditional 2D mammography and from a variety of angles. This lengthens the time the breast is under compression, but not excessively. The process is similar to undergoing a computed tomography (CT) scan. A physician can review the images separately or put them together to see a three-dimensional image of the breast.

Why 3D mammography?

There are several benefits of 3D mammography:

  • A clearer view of breast tissue — While a conventional 2D mammogram shows a flat image of the breast, the 3D version reveals the breast tissue and any irregularities in their actual location within the breast. Without that third dimension of depth, structures within a 2D image tend to overlap. A 3D image helps to reduce the problem of overlapping, which makes it easier for physicians to evaluate areas of concern.
  • Fewer false positive results — No one wants to get the call saying the first mammogram has revealed something that needs additional screening. Because physicians may be able to see breast tissue more clearly and in better detail with 3D mammography, there will be less chance of a false positive result on the first mammogram, which triggers the call for a follow-up appointment. Current studies show that 3D mammography reduces callbacks by between 15 and 30 percent.
  • Better cancer detection — Early detection is a key to survival for most cancers, including breast cancer. Preliminary studies show that early cancer detection is increased by more than 40 percent with 3D mammography.

What’s right for you?

There has been much debate recently about whether or not women should have mammograms, and when regular mammography should start. Here are the American Cancer Society’s guidelines for women with an average risk for breast cancer:

  • Under 40: No recommendation for mammogram. However, if you have any concern about your breast health or you have family history of breast cancer, speak with your physician about getting screened.
  • Ages 40–44: Talk with your doctor about whether having a mammogram is right for you.
  • Ages 45–54: Have a yearly mammogram.
  • Ages 55 and older: Have a mammogram at least every two years. Talk with your doctor to see if a more frequent mammogram would benefit you.

The guidelines for women with a higher-than-average risk for breast cancer are different. If you fit any of the criteria below, talk with your physician about when you should start having a mammogram, and how often thereafter you should return for a mammogram:

  • A personal history of breast cancer (that is, you have already been diagnosed with breast cancer)
  • A family history of breast cancer
  • A genetic mutation known to increase risk of breast cancer (such as BRCA)
  • Radiation therapy to the chest before the age of 30

No matter your age or risk for breast cancer, the American Cancer Society says, you should become familiar with how your breasts look and feel. Seek the advice of a physician if you detect any changes in your breasts.

To schedule a mammogram at Adventist Health Simi Valley, call the Nancy Reagan Breast Center at (805) 955-6122.