3D mammograms finding tumors in women with dense breasts

October 26, 2016 | by Alexander Hantel, M.D.

Women are used to making decisions about their healthcare, especially when it comes to understanding their breast cancer risk and deciding what breast cancer screening tests to get. There is a new type of mammogram that is helping to save lives — three-dimensional (3D) mammogram.

Known as tomosynthesis or “tomo,” a 3D mammogram is especially useful for women with dense breasts, who are four to five times more likely to develop breast cancer than women with low breast density.

How is it different than a traditional, two-dimensional (2D) mammogram? A 3D mammogram uses the same technology, except the device takes several low-dose images or “slices” in one-millimeter layers from different angles around the breast to create a 3D picture.

In a 2D mammogram, only images of the front and side of the breast are taken. This may result in images with overlapping breast tissue, making it more difficult for a radiologist to determine if breast cancer lies underneath.

Dense breasts can make it even more difficult to find cancer on a traditional mammogram, as dense tissue may hide a tumor from view. A 3D mammogram provides an image of the breast from multiple layers, angles or slices, which makes finding abnormalities, lumps or tumors easier.

Images of breast tissue are also more detailed, which provides a clearer image than just the top and side of the breast. Also, with 3D mammogram, there is less chance for cancer to hide behind overlapping tissue. Research shows that use of 3D mammography for dense breast tissue can lead to fewer false-positive and false-negative readings.

As a patient, you won’t notice anything different. The procedure looks and feels like a traditional mammogram, and only takes a few seconds longer. The scan itself takes less than two to three seconds per view and the entire process takes approximately 10 to 20 minutes.

Women should prepare for a 3D mammogram in the same way they would prepare for a traditional mammogram:

  • Schedule a mammogram for a date one week after your period begins, just after menstruation when your breasts are the least tender.
  • Wear comfortable and easy-to remove clothing.
  • Avoid the use of deodorant, perfume and lotion to the underarm or torso so it won’t interfere with the imaging process.
  • Inform your physician if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, have implants or have a medical condition.

Generally performed with a 2D mammogram or in place of a 2D mammogram, 3D mammography, which is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, uses very low-dose X-rays. Because the technology is still new, not all hospitals and facilities are available to screen in 3D.

While breast density is very common, particularly in younger women (breast density typically decreases as a woman gets older), at this time, there are no special screening guidelines for women with dense breasts.

Your most recent mammogram can help determine if you have dense breasts and, if you do, talk to your physician about having a 3D mammogram.

Remember, early detection is key to finding breast cancer when it’s most treatable.

Learn more about detecting breast cancer with a 3D mammogram.

Edward-Elmhurst Health offers no-referral mammograms that you can schedule online. Don’t wait. Go online, find a time that works for you, and schedule your appointment today. It’s that easy.

Schedule your mammogram online today.

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