What is 3D Mammography?

As we make our way towards breast cancer awareness month, you’ve hopefully been thinking about what type of breast cancer screenings you may need. Clinical breast exam? Mammogram? 3D mammogram?

3D mammography is a relatively new method for finding breast cancer. There are many potential benefits and risks that come with 3D mammograms. Here we answer some of the most pressing questions.

How often should I get a mammogram?
The U.S. Preventive Task Force recommends that women between the ages of 50 and 74 get a mammogram every two years. Women between the ages of 40 and 49 should talk to their doctor about when they should start getting mammograms.

If you have an increased risk for breast cancer, talk to your doctor about screening tests, no matter how old you are. Breast cancer risk factors include having:

  • A personal history of breast cancer
  • A family history of breast cancer
  • Certain gene mutations such as BRCA1 and BRCA2
  • Received radiation treatments to the breast or chest area

Check with your doctor if you have questions about mammograms or other breast cancer screenings.

How do 3D mammograms differ from traditional mammograms?
Traditional or 2D mammograms only take two images of the breast: side-to-side and top-to-bottom. Breast tissue can overlap in a 2D mammogram which can lead to inaccurate results, such as by masking cancerous tissue or making benign tissue appear suspicious.

3D mammograms, on the other hand, take multiple X-ray images from many angles to make a 3-dimensional picture of each breast. 3D mammograms may lower the number of false alarms that come with overlapping tissue, chiefly in dense breast tissue. This could prevent unnecessary extra appointments, tests and patient stress and worry.

There is also less compression of the breast in a 3D mammogram, which could make breast cancer screenings more comfortable for patients.

What are the risks and limitations of 3D mammograms?
Because many patients who get a 3D mammogram may also still also get a traditional 2D mammogram, the amount of radiation they are exposed to may double. Since radiation exposure can cause cancer, this can be a concern. But, new modifications may reduce the amount of radiation exposure that comes with getting a mammogram.

Also, there is little evidence right now to say whether 3D mammograms are better or worse than 2D mammograms. Although 3D mammograms show some promise in improving health outcomes, there is still not enough research to determine if 3D mammograms are better at finding cancer and saving lives compared to 2D mammograms.

Are 3D mammograms covered?
3D mammograms may be covered by your health plan. You should call the number on the back of your member ID card for more information.

Sources: National Cancer InstituteBreastcancer.orgU.S. Preventive Task Force

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