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What Are the Risks of a 3D Mammogram?

The 3D mammogram process is modern technology delivering a range of benefits over standard 2D mammography. An increasing number of healthcare professionals recommend women to have a mammogram starting at age 40 if they are faced with an average risk of breast cancer. However, the American Society of Breast Surgeons has found some other facts as well. They published an updated position statement stating that women having an average risk of developing breast cancer needs to preferably go through a 3D diagnostic mammogram carried out yearly.

3D Mammography – A Modern & More Effective Process?

Also called breast tomosynthesis, the 3D mammography is a comparatively new procedure for taking breast images and was approved by the FDA in 2011. Like traditional 2D mammograms, 3D mammography applies x-rays to capture breast images to diagnose tumors, lumps and other abnormalities. It can generate breast tissue images as well.

Having routine 3D mammograms brings several benefits, including:

  • Providing patients with a 30% lesser risk of dying from breast cancer
  • Saving patients’ life by spotting breast cancer early
  • Enabling patient to get prompt treatment, which implies there is a higher chance of them for keeping their breasts without having to undertake mastectomy

3D captures numerous slices of the breast at various angles. The doctor then brings the images together to develop a very clear 3D reconstruction of the breasts to review slides one by one. This makes it easier for the doctor to review if there’s any concern.

The 3D representation of the breast is like CT technology-created 3D images. Tomosynthesis is not the same as CT technology in that it delivers significantly fewer x-ray beams through the breast than CT technology does, and there’s intensely less x-ray contact to the rest of the chest.

Although 3D mammography applies very low-dose x-rays, it is now used often in conjunction with 2D mammography, making the total radiation dose higher than there would be with only standard mammography. Early evaluations of tomosynthesis recommend an enhanced discovery of breast cancer than viewed with 2D mammograms, but significant large-scale comparisons of 3D mammography with 2D mammography are still in progress in research and studies.

The Risks Involved in 3D Mammogram

As the mammogram applies x-rays for developing breast images, the patient has exposure to slight amounts of ionizing radiation. The perks of mammography, for most women, overshadow the risks this slight amount of radiation poses. The risk related to this dose appears to be higher in women under the age of 40. But, in certain cases, mammography’s advantages for perceiving breast cancer under 40 years old still overshadow the risk of radiation exposure.

For example, mammography might show that a mass is negligible, and so won’t need treatment. Also, if a mammogram identifies a malignant tumor early, a surgeon can remove it before it further spreads to other organs of the body, which would need more extensive treatments such as radiation or chemotherapy.

Still, there are some risks to consider, including:

  • Exposure to low radiation level. As mentioned, the patients having a 3D mammogram have exposure to lesser amounts of radiation, and because it is generally combined with traditional 2D mammography, the patients are exposed to even more radiation than they would be with the traditional mammogram alone. However, there are now some improved 3D mammogram devices that develop both 2D and 3D images together, which decreases their radiation exposure.
  • A 3D mammogram may spot something doubtful that turns out to not be tumorous. A 3D mammogram may diagnose an abnormality that seems to be consistent with the normal tissue or negligent after additional testing. This is what we call a “false positive” result, and it may cause patients unnecessary anxiety while they undergo further testing and imaging such as a biopsy to assess the suspicious area.
  • A 3D mammogram can’t spot all cancers. There is a chance that a 3D mammogram could miss a certain cancer area, like tiny cancer or an area that’s difficult to see.

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