3D Mammography Provides Better Images, Reduces Callbacks

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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 percent 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 percent of cancers.

3D technology is making it possible to see masses and cancers more clearly and helping reduce unnecessary callbacks.  

3D Technology Brings New Dimension to Screening and Diagnostics

A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast. Today, most mammography captures digital images. 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. Clinical studies 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 mammogram 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 percent.

Insurance and 3D Mammography

Many insurance programs cover 3D mammography. Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health currently offers 3D technology at all locations that provide mammograms. Mammograms save lives. Schedule your mammogram today.

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. 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.

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