While digital mammography is still one of the most advanced technologies available today, it is only a 2-dimensional picture of the breast. The breast is a 3-dimensional object composed of different structures, such as blood vessels, milk ducts, fat, and ligaments. All of these structures, which are located at different depths within the breast, can overlap and cause confusion when viewed as a 2-dimensional, flat image.
This confusion of overlapping tissue is a leading reason why small breast cancers may be missed and normal tissue may appear abnormal, leading to unnecessary call backs. In these cases, 3D mammography can offer a clearer look at the tissue with the same low dose of radiation as a 2D mammogram.
Screening 3D mammography is particularly useful for women with dense breasts (PDF). As of October 1, 2013 all Maryland mammography providers must notify patients who have dense breasts, using the following language:
“You should know that dense breast tissue is a common finding and is not abnormal, with about half of women having dense or highly dense breasts. However, dense breast tissue can make it harder to find cancer on a mammogram and may also be associated with an increased risk of cancer. This information about the result of your mammogram is given to you to raise your awareness and to inform your conversations with your physician. Together, you can decide which screening options are right for you based on your mammogram results, individual risk factors, or physical examination. A report of your results was sent to your physician.”
If you receive this notification (or have already been told you have dense breasts) you may want to discuss 3D mammography with your physician. 3D mammography uses high-powered computing to convert digital breast images into a stack of very thin layers or “slices”– building what is essentially a “3-dimensional mammogram”.
A good analogy for 3D mammography is thinking of the pages in a book. If you look down at the cover you cannot see all of the pages – but when you open it up, you can go through the entire book page-by-page to see everything between the covers. 3D mammography is designed with the same concept in mind.
There is no additional compression required with 3D mammography, and it only takes a few seconds longer for each view. The technologist will view the images at the computer workstation to ensure adequate images are available for review by a radiologist, who studies them and reports results directly to you and to your physician.
If you’re interested in a 3D mammogram you’re welcome to call 240-566-3400 to schedule your appointment. If you have questions about 3D mammography, take a look at our Questions and Answers site, post your question in the comments section below, or send us an email using the Contact Us form.