What are the different types of mammograms?

Different types of mammograms including 2D, screening and diagnostic, says Thelma Reeves, Director of Women's Diagnostics at West Hills Hospital & Medical Center. Learn more in this video.
Stacy Contreras
Body Imaging
There are two types of mammograms. In this video, Stacy Contreras, director at Good Samaritan Hospital’s Breast Care Center, describes how each type of mammogram is used to check for breast cancer.
Juliet E. Leman, DO
OBGYN (Obstetrics & Gynecology)
The different types of mammograms are:
  • Traditional film mammography - a 2-dimensional (2D) image taken on film. This is the traditional form.
  • 2D digital mammography - a 2D image that is digital quality instead of film.
  • 3D digital mammography - a 3-dimensional (3D) image.
2D mammography is the gold standard whether film or digital, and is what is covered by all insurances as preventative medicine. Some research suggests digital is more sensitive and more accurate in young women with dense breasts, but no difference in outcomes has been shown..
3D imaging is NOT covered by most insurance companies. There may be a small increase in detection of cancers, but not enough to make it the gold standard yet; further studies are being done to see if it will replace 2D imaging.
Screening mammograms are done yearly starting at age 40 (or age 50, recommendations differ but I prefer to start patients at age 40) or earlier if you have a family history of breast cancer. Talk to your physician to find out when you should be screened.
Diagnostic mammograms are performed when the patient or the physician feel an abnormality and need further evaluation of the area. Sometimes an ultrasound of the breast will also be performed.
There are two types of mammogram tests for the breast: film mammography and digital mammography.

Film mammography has been used for more than 35 years. The breast image is placed on x-ray film. This test is very reliable. The films are processed and read by the radiologist (doctor who reads x-rays). While film mammography is very good, women who have thick breast tissue may need digital mammography testing.

Digital mammography takes an electronic picture of the breast and stores it in a computer. This test does not use film. The pictures are sent to the radiologist electronically. The radiologist can magnify areas of the breast that need to be looked at further. The actual exam is done in the same way the film mammogram is done. Digital mammography is better for screening women who are premenopausal, under age 55, or who have thick breast tissue.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.