Maximizing Your Mammogram
October 17, 2017
Why 3D makes a difference
Written By Jeffrey Quam, MD
Brought to you by St. Anthony Summit Medical Center
A mammogram is the single most effective method for early detection of breast cancer since it can identify breast cancer in its earliest stages, even before any symptoms, such as a lump, appear.
We're proud to offer two types of advanced mammography at Centura Health: 2D digital mammography, as well as 3D digital mammography. 2D mammography has been used for decades and is a proven very accurate technique. 3D mammography complements 2D mammography, often displaying more accurate and detailed visualization of normal breast anatomy, as well as detection of subtle breast abnormalities. Both provide clear, precise results in minutes.
Recent technological advances in mammography have resulted in the creation of two-dimensional (2D) digital imaging instead of the older 2D film imaging. This digital transition creates equivalent images using lower doses of radiation. Digital imaging also allows the radiologist to manipulate the images after they have been taken; something film mammography did not allow. The introduction of three-dimensional (3D) mammography — also known as digital breast tomosynthesis or "tomo" — is a more recent technological advance. 3D mammography improves both screening and diagnostic capabilities. Studies in both the U.S. and Europe confirm a higher rate of earlier breast cancer detection when 3D imaging is added to the standard 2D images.
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How do 2D and 3D mammograms differ? From the patient's perspective, it is basically the same experience. The breast is compressed between two plates as low-dose x-rays are taken from the front and side. The only difference you will notice is that the 3D images take a few seconds longer to acquire. The main advantage of 3D, for the radiologist, is that the mammogram images are displayed in multiple thin slices of the breast tissue (rather than a single image of each breast, as is seen with 2D mammography). This advance enables the radiologist to detect abnormalities in the breast more easily and more accurately. The difficulty of detecting subtle breast abnormalities, caused by overlapping normal breast tissue, is minimized with 3D imaging. This is particularly true for patients that have more dense background normal breast tissue, because this dense tissue can "hide" subtle abnormalities.
When should I start getting mammograms? It can be confusing to know the right time to start screening and how often to get screened, and your internet search may produce conflicting answers. It is important to understand that when recommendations are made for screening they are made for people who have an "average" risk of cancer. Thus, having a conversation with your health care provider regarding breast cancer screening can help individualize your screening. Start this conversation at age 40 or earlier, if you have any additional risk factors.
Breast cancer screening is an important aspect of your health maintenance. You can also make your experience less stressful by obtaining your mammogram at a facility that is part of a cancer "network," meaning that your information is easily accessible to other dedicated breast cancer professionals who follow national cancer guidelines.
Check with your insurer in advance to determine if the modest additional cost of 3D tomo is covered.
Dr. Jeffrey Quam is a dedicated breast radiologist practicing with Centura Health Breast Care Network. Mammograms are available at St. Anthony Summit Medical Center located at 340 Peak One Drive, Frisco. To schedule an appointment, please call (970)668-9595.