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When is a 3D Mammography recommended

A mammogram is a low-dose X-ray process that lets radiologists look for changes in breast tissue. The old standard in breast cancer screening has been a 2D digital mammography that captures two X-ray images of the breast, one from the top and another from the side. It detects all kinds of breast cancers, but their value can sometimes be limited as the images they produce are rather flat, making them harder to understand.  Also, overlapping tissue can cover the cancerous tumors, making them not visible. That’s when a 3D mammogram is recommended. This article talks about 3D mammography and under which conditions it is the best imaging option to recommend.

The Basics of 3D Mammography

A 3D mammography is the imaging procedure where an X-ray moves in an arc over the breast, capturing several images from different angles. The 3D pictures are developed by a computer into thin, 1-millimeter images, making it clearer and simpler to detect tumors. The radiologist sees about 200-300 images with 3D mammography, compared to just two or four taken from a 2D mammogram.

Following are the scenarios when a 3D mammogram is recommended:

After 40 years of age

As per studies, women in their 40s should go for yearly screening as they have a potentially higher risk of breast cancer than younger women. Women having a gene mutation like BRCA 1 or BRCA 2, or those having a family history of breast cancer, must consult with their physicians—but usually, it has been observed that many physicians and surgeons recommend women to get their first 3D mammograms at age 30 for investigative purpose.

Dense Breast Tissues

A 3D mammogram is usually recommended for women having dense breast tissues. As per studies, about 50 percent of women have dense tissues. Breast tissue is made up of milk glands, ducts, supportive tissue (dense tissue), and fatty tissues. Dense breasts contain a higher quantity of dense breast tissue than fatty tissue. Both cancers and dense breast tissue seem white on a 2D mammogram, which makes it difficult for physicians to distinguish tissues from the tumors.

A 3D mammogram is beneficial in diagnosing breast cancer in women having dense breast tissue as the 3D image lets doctors observe breast beyond the sites of density. The availability and acceptance of 3D mammography have increased notably as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved it as an advanced breast screening and cancer detection procedure in 2011.

Reduced follow-up imaging

For patients who are unable to visit the physician repeatedly or are afraid of the screening procedures or allergic to radiation if exposed frequently, a 3D mammogram is highly recommended.

With 2D mammography, doctors often need to ask patients to return so they can get more images to confirm any abnormality if present. With 3D mammography, that happens less often. Studies have revealed that with 3D mammography, the number of patient’s follow-up imaging or callbacks has reduced by 15%-30%.

In the case of 2D mammography that often calls for additional imaging, the process can be stressful for the patients. It also takes more time and results in extra costs. Using a 3D mammogram procedure decreases the need for follow-up imaging and call-backs, thus saving patients from unnecessary visits and stress.

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