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Is a 3D Mammogram Right for Me?

3D mammography can be a foreign concept to some women. Read the FAQs below to see if this type of mammogram would be best to help you stay on top of your breast health in central PA.

Q: What is a 3D mammogram?

A: A 3D mammogram is slang for breast tomosynthesis. It’s a recent advancement in breast examination technology which provides a clearer, more accurate view of dense breast material and allows doctors to pinpoint the size, shape and location of abnormalities more effectively.

Q: Does this make the traditional mammogram obsolete?

A: The traditional 2D mammogram is not going away. It is still the standard test for the majority of women who get screening mammograms (only 10 percent of women in the United States have extremely dense breast tissue).

Q: How long does it take to get results?

A: As with the traditional mammogram, images are digital: they are stored on a computer as they’re obtained and available for the radiologist to read almost immediately.

Q: Is a 3D mammogram taken the same way as a traditional mammogram?

A: A 3D mammogram is performed in the same manner as a traditional mammogram. The equipment and exam room look exactly the same, and just as with a traditional mammogram, the patient stands very still as the breast is compressed. The difference is that the camera rotates around the breast to capture a number of digital images at different angles as the breast is scanned. The results are compiled in a 3D image that the radiologist can look through by slice to detect any abnormalities.

Q: When should a 3D mammogram be used?

A: There are no official recommendations about when to use the 3D mammogram. It is simply another imaging tool, along with ultrasound, MRI and traditional mammography, that can be used to assess your breast health.

3D mammography is very effective in finding abnormalities in dense breast tissue. Spotting cancer in dense breast tissue is more challenging with a 2D mammogram because the dense tissue may obscure the cancer. Sometimes, using 2D mammograms to look for cancer in dense breasts is like looking for an igloo in a snowstorm.

Q: What is breast density?

A: Not all breasts are the same. Breasts are considered dense if there is a lot of fibrous or glandular tissue but not much fat. Breast density is often easily appreciated on physical examination. The younger the woman is, the more dense her breast tissue is likely to be. The radiologist who reads your mammogram assigns it to one of four categories: almost entirely fatty, scattered areas of fibroglandular density, heterogeneously dense or extremely dense. The majority of women in the United States fall into the middle categories with just 10 percent having extremely dense breasts.

Q: Can I request a 3D mammogram?

A: You can talk to your primary care provider about your family history or other risk factors for breast cancer to get a recommendation. Your radiologist ultimately determines the most appropriate imaging for you based on your breast density, any recent suspicious findings or biopsies and family history.

If your radiologist has already determined that you have dense breasts, and you have had 3D mammograms in the past, chances are you will continue to have them until you reach menopause when breasts tend to become less dense.

Q: Is a 3D mammogram covered by insurance?

A: In 2016, Pennsylvania state legislation was updated mandating that insurance companies cover screening 3D mammograms in the same way they cover 2D. Some self-insured or self-funded plans are not mandated to follow this law since their plans are governed by the federal government. It is best if you have patients with these types of plans check with their insurance company to confirm coverage of 3D mammography.