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Understanding 3D Mammography and Breast Cancer Screening

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Maybe it’s happened to you. Your screening mammogram shows something suspicious. It might not be breast cancer, but because it isn’t clear, you’re called back for additional views, or perhaps an ultrasound, MRI, or biopsy.

Mammography is an important tool in the early detection of breast cancer, but it has limitations. About 10-15% of callbacks are due to false positives which can happen when areas of overlapping tissue look like a lesion, causing a lot of worry for no reason.

Or worse—you have a cancerous lesion, but layers of superimposed breast tissue hide it. Conventional two-dimensional mammography can miss as many as 20% of cancers.

New technology can help reduce unnecessary callbacks and also make it possible to see masses and cancers more clearly. Three-dimensional mammography offers advantages over standard technology.

New Technology Brings New Dimension to Screening and Diagnostics

A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast. Today, most mammography captures digital images instead of using film. Conventional 2D mammography takes a flat picture of breast tissue. This can lead to the problems described above.

Digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT), or “tomo,” is the latest advance in mammography, capturing images of the breast from multiple angles, in thin slices. These high-resolution 1mm slices can be examined individually or combined to create a 3D image of your breast.

A radiologist—a physician who specializes in medical imaging—can then see details that would be hidden in a 2D image alone. Better visualization results in fewer unnecessary callbacks and earlier detection of many cancers.

Making a Positive Difference

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved 3D mammography in 2011. Many clinical studies in the last five years have shown the benefits of this technology for all women, regardless of breast type or density.

In 2014, The Journal of the American Medical Association published one of the largest studies comparing 3D and 2D mammography in nearly half a million women. Researchers found that using 3D mammography resulted in:

  • 41% increase in detecting invasive breast cancers
  • 29% increase in detecting all breast cancers
  • 15% decrease in callbacks for additional imaging

The 3D Mammography Experience

Getting a 3D mammography exam is very much like getting a traditional 2D mammogram. The technologist positions you, compresses your breast and takes a series of images. The 3D system doesn’t require any more compression than conventional systems. It may take a few seconds longer to capture each view. Most women do not even notice a difference in the few extra seconds of compression.

Very Low-Dose Radiation

The digital 3D system uses very low X-ray energy—about the same as a film system. The exposure falls well within the FDA’s safety standards for mammography and, as with all mammograms, the benefits of mammography outweigh any risk associated with low-dose radiation. After all, with early detection, the five-year survival rate for breast cancer is almost 100%.

Insurance and 3D Mammography

Many insurance programs cover 3D mammography. Lancaster General Health currently offers 3D mammography at the Suzanne H. Arnold Center for Breast Health at the Suburban Pavilion, and the Kissel Hill, Lebanon, Parkesburg and Willow Lakes outpatient locations. 

Click here to schedule a mammogram.

author name

Nitin K. Tanna, MD

Nitin K. Tanna, MD, is a radiologist at Lancaster Radiology Associates and serves as chief of mammography and breast imaging services at Lancaster General Health.

Education: A graduate of the University of Rochester and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Dr. Tanna is a frequent community speaker on breast imaging and mammography, and has authored several articles on breast screening.

Call: 717-544-4900

About LG Health Hub

The LG Health Hub features breaking medical news and straightforward advice to help individuals of all ages make healthy choices and reach their wellness goals. The blog puts articles by trusted Lancaster General Health clinical experts, good 'n healthy recipes, videos, patient stories, and health risk assessments at your fingertips.


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