3D Mammography: The Next Level in Early Breast Cancer Detection
A mammogram is the most commonly used tool for early breast cancer detection. It is the best way for your doctor to detect a tumor in your breast - often before a lump can be felt. The technology of mammography continues to evolve. Most recently, the development of digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT), more commonly known as 3D mammography, has taken breast imaging to the next level.
3D mammography improves the ability to detect smaller or hidden breast cancers. Its accuracy also helps to deliver fewer false positives. Reducing false positives not only cuts down on callbacks for further imaging and decreases the need for biopsies; it spares unnecessary anxiety and saves money.
Who benefits from 3D mammography
This effective screening tool is especially helpful for women who have dense breast tissue. It’s estimated that half of women younger than 50 and a third of women older than 50 have dense breast tissue. Such tissue can provide places for cancers to “hide” or can mimic cancer, leading to a false positive result. Patients with scarring from other procedures and those who have already had breast cancer are also among those who can particularly benefit from 3D mammography.
How 3D mammography works
For the procedure, the breast is compressed as it is in a standard mammogram. However, many women believe that 3D mammography offers a more comfortable experience. The machine’s ergonomic design includes a flex panel with a spring action that angles somewhat to the shape of the breast to improve comfort.
During the screening, the machine follows an arc-like progression over the breast, taking images at one-millimeter increments throughout the entire area of the breast. At the conclusion of the scan, it reconstructs the images into both 3D and 2D pictures.
Images may be reviewed one at a time or played back in a loop. The ability to look at the breast in high resolution millimeter-thin slices, one layer at a time significantly helps eliminate the problem of tumors being hidden by superimposed breast tissue.
When Should You Get A Screening Mammogram?
Franciscan Health endorses breast cancer screening guidelines set forth by the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers (NAPBC), a quality program of the American College of Surgeons, and the American Cancer Society.
Mammogram guidelines for average‐risk women
- Age 40-45: Begin annual mammograms as early as age 40 but no later than 45.
- Age 45-54: Continue annual mammograms.
- Age 55 and older: Can switch to mammograms every two years or continue on a yearly basis, if desired. Screenings should continue as long as the woman is in good health and expected to live 10 more years or longer.
- Self‐ and medically‐provided breast exams are no longer recommended for any age group.
Mammogram guidelines for high‐risk women
Women who are at a higher risk should begin annual mammograms and MRI screenings at age 30 and continue each year for as long as they are in good health. This includes women who:
- Have a lifetime breast cancer risk of 20‐25 percent or greater, according to risk‐assessment tools
- Have a known BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation (based on genetic testing)
- Have a first‐degree relative (parent, sibling or child) with a known BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation but have not had genetic testing done themselves