Published on October 24, 2018

3-D mammograms

An updated view for breast cancer

3d mammographyMammograms give women a crucial head start on finding breast cancer early, when treatment is often most effective. They can detect tumors that are still too tiny to feel and identify cancers before symptoms start.

Still, although they’ve saved countless lives, these breast X-rays may miss about 20 percent of all breast cancers, the National Cancer Institute reports. They can also cause false alarms by indicating abnormalities that turn out not to be cancer.

A different dimension

A newer type of mammogram may help overcome these flaws. It’s called three-dimensional, or 3-D, mammography. (Breast tomosynthesis is another name for it.)

“It helps doctors catch more cancers at an earlier stage,” says Karen Kish, MD, a Nazareth Hospital breast surgeon.

This 3-D mammography is available at Nazareth Hospital’s medical imaging department. Here’s how it works:

During a 3-D mammogram, a woman’s breast is compressed, just as it is for a standard mammogram. An X-ray machine moves over the breast, taking multiple, slice-like pictures. Special computer software then creates a detailed 3-D image of the breast.

Research suggests that 3-D mammograms may:

  • Improve the ability of doctors to accurately diagnose breast cancer
  • Find small tumors that may have remained hidden on a conventional mammogram
  • Provide clearer images of abnormalities in dense breasts—breasts that have a lot of fibrous or glandular tissue and not much fat
  • Greatly reduce the number of women called back for further testing because of false alarms

Get tested

The American Cancer Society recommends that women at average risk of breast cancer have yearly mammograms starting at age 45. (Women between 40 and 44 have the option to start screening with a mammogram every year.)