Shadie Majidi, MD, radiologist and chief of breast imaging with the Froedtert & MCW health network, was one of the first physicians trained to read 3D mammograms and was involved in the initial research that led the FDA to approve the technology. She offers some explanations.
A mammogram is an X-ray that radiologists use to find cancers in the breast tissue. Today, most of the images are digital, but the X-ray technology is different depending on if you choose 2D or 3D mammography.
2D mammograms offer a two-dimensional picture of the breast. 3D mammograms, also known as tomosynthesis, were approved by the FDA in 2011. This newer technology creates a three-dimensional view of the breast by capturing multiple images. 3D is used together with standard, digital, 2D mammography. The mammogram pictures are taken in a way that allows the radiologist to view them in thin “slices.”
“It allows us to look at multiple layers of breast tissue, one layer at a time,” Dr. Majidi said. “It is like flipping through the pages of a book.”
Getting a 3D mammogram adds an extra minute or two to your screening.
Breasts are made of dense glandular tissue and fat. Dense breast tissue looks white on a mammogram, but so does cancer. If you have a lot of dense breast tissue, it may mask cancers.
“It is like trying to find a snowball in a snow storm,” Dr. Majidi said. “It can be challenging.”
A 3D mammogram will make it easier for radiologists to detect cancer because they can look at the breast from different angles. This is particularly important for women with dense breasts, who are at increased risk of developing breast cancer.
Fewer False Alarms
Sometimes, a mammogram can appear to show an abnormality in the breast, but further testing reveals it is not cancer. These types of false-alarms can be stressful because they require patients to come back for a second test. Because of the clearer images, the call-back rate for women who get 3D mammograms is significantly lower than for those who get 2D mammograms.
“The 3D mammogram can often prevent that short-term anxiety,” Dr. Majidi said.
When found early, breast cancer is very treatable. Early studies show that when 3D mammography is used with 2D mammography, breast cancer detection is significantly improved. 3D mammograms can detect up to 40 percent more cancers than 2D mammograms.
“We are able to find cancers that we would not have been able to find with 2D, ”Dr. Majidi said. “The 3D exam will often detect cancers at an earlier stage, which typically gives women treatment options and improved outcomes.”
Who Will Benefit From a 3D Mammogram?
Any woman can benefit from a 3D mammogram; however, Dr. Majidi strongly recommends 3D for these groups:
- Women with dense breasts
- Women getting their first mammogram, to establish a baseline
- Women at a higher risk for developing breast cancer
3D mammograms are more expensive than 2D mammograms. It is important to check with your insurance provider to find out what your insurance plan covers.
Whether you choose to get a 2D mammogram or a 3D mammogram, it is important for all women to talk to their doctor about getting a mammogram annually beginning at age 40. Early detection matters: It can save your life.