What is a 3D mammography?

A 3D mammogram will not be too different from what you’d expect during a regular mammogram. It uses a little bit more of a radiation dose than a traditional mammogram, but not much more. That helps it to give a more sensitive and specific image of the breast tissue. It's a great new tool.

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Mammography isn’t infallible, Lawrence Bassett, MD, section chief of the Iris Cantor Center for Breast Imaging, notes. In particular, dense breast tissue can mask a tumor. Digital breast tomosynthesis, also called 3D mammography, was recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as an add-on to the conventional two-dimensional mammogram.

Studies have shown that 3D mammography can reduce false positives (findings that are suspicious enough to require further testing but turn out to be benign) while improving the ability to detect cancers that would otherwise be hidden by overlapping tissue. “There is no perfect screening method,” Dr. Bassett concludes, “but mammography is the best tool that we have, and it has been proved to reduce breast cancer mortality.”

Dr. Anne C. Hoyt, MD
Diagnostic Radiologist

According to the National Cancer Institute, about half of all women screened for breast cancer each year for 10 years will experience an anxiety-producing false-positive result. With 3D mammography (or digital breast tomosynthesis), 15 percent fewer women are asked to return for an additional evaluation. The most common cause of a false-positive mammogram result is overlapping breast tissue at different depths in the breast, which can appear as a mass or other abnormality on a conventional 2D mammogram.

With 3D mammography, the radiologist can scroll through the breast layer by layer, removing dense tissue. By doing this, your radiologist is able to determine whether or not the area of concern is an underlying mass, thus preventing any unnecessary return visits.

More than 38 million U.S. women have a screening or diagnostic mammogram each year. While mammography has been proven to save lives, the technology is not perfect. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that 3D mammography must be interpreted along with a conventional 2D mammogram. When first approved in 2011, complying with this requirement meant that women were exposed to twice the radiation dose of conventional mammography. However, two years later the FDA approved a technique that allows imaging software to generate a “synthetic” 2D image from the 3D mammography data. This important breakthrough reduced the radiation exposure to the same low level as a conventional mammogram.

This content originally appeared online at UCLA Health.

3D mammography allows a radiologist to see through different tissue structures in the breast. A 3D mammogram is more effective in screening for breast cancer.

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