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.

Trinity Health is a Catholic health care organization that acts in accordance with the Catholic tradition and does not condone or support all practices covered in this site. In case of emergency call 911. This site is educational and not a substitute for professional medical advice, always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider.

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.

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.

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.”

Continue Learning about Women's Health

When Should I Start Getting Mammograms?
When Should I Start Getting Mammograms?
In 2019 alone, the American Cancer Society estimates that more than 300,000 American women were diagnosed with breast cancer, and almost 42,000 died o...
Read More
Should I wear my bra when I sleep?
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MDDr. Mehmet Oz, MD
It is often thought that sleeping in a bra will decrease breast sagging. In this video, Dr. Oz gives...
More Answers
Are My Breasts Normal?
Are My Breasts Normal?Are My Breasts Normal?Are My Breasts Normal?Are My Breasts Normal?
Who Is a Candidate for Single-Site Robotic Hysterectomy?
Who Is a Candidate for Single-Site Robotic Hysterectomy?

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.