Health Topics Information

Breast Cancer Detection Improved with 3D Mammography

Breast cancer is still the most common cancer for U.S. women. About one in eight women develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. Most breast cancers, approximately 85 percent occur in women who have no family history. Many women with breast cancer have no symptoms. 3D mammography, also called Digital Breast Tomosythesis, generates multiple image slices of the breast. The radiologist can then examine the images, one slice at a time. Fine details and small tumors are more clearly visible because they are no longer hidden by overlapping tissue, which is common with traditional mammography.

Early detection is very important for long term survival and 3D mammography provides additional information, beyond traditional 2D mammography, that can prove helpful in finding small early stage cancers. 3D mammography is the preferred mammography screening method for women at higher risk for breast cancer such as those with a significant family history for breast cancer. It is also the preferred method for women with dense breast tissue because it allows better visualization of small lesions which may be obscured on traditional 2D mammography images.

According to the American Cancer Society, women at average risk for breast cancer have the option to start screening mammograms every year from ages 40 and 44. Women age 45 to 54 should get a mammogram every year and women 55 and older can switch to biyearly mammograms.

While all women can benefit from 3D mammography, it shows the most benefit in women who:

  • Are between ages 40 and 60
  • Are having a baseline, first-time mammogram
  • Have dense breast tissue (50-60 percent of women age 40-44)
  • Have a personal history of cancer

The experience of having a 3D mammogram is the same as a traditional mammogram. The breasts are compressed in the same way and the imaging time is the same. Talk to your care provider and your insurance company if you think a 3D mammogram would be the best option for you.

(Luke Roller, MD, is a radiologist at CHI St. Alexius Health. He performs diagnostic imaging procedures, interprets medical imaging, and prepares comprehensive reports to assist other physicians and health providers in the treatment of disease.)