3-D Mammography: The Benefits and Drawbacks You Need to Know About

Early detection of breast cancer dramatically increases patients’ chances of survival, so it is critical that they have access to the most effective methods of diagnosis. A recent development in screening for breast cancer is digital breast tomosynthesis, or 3-D mammography. Although it is not yet available to all patients, studies show that it may have some advantages over traditional 2-D mammography. While 2-D mammography only gives diagnosticians images from the sides and front, 3-D mammography involves taking numerous shots of thin segments of the breast from diverse angles. Technicians can combine them using computer software into a 3-D animation or go through them individually as if they were pages from a book.

The procedure for patients as they undergo screening is the same, although 3-D screening takes slightly longer. If patients undergo 2-D and 3-D mammography at the same time, the dosage of radiation they are exposed to increases. However, the FDA has determined that 3-D mammography is accurate enough to be used on its own, and low-dose 3-D machines actually expose patients to less radiation than 2-D devices.

Early studies of the efficacy of 3-D mammograms were performed by the first company to manufacture the machines, and research focused mainly on 3-D and 2-D mammograms used in combination. Results of a study published in February 2016 indicate that using 3-D screening not only improves cancer detection, but also reduces the necessity of patients being called back for further testing.
140Unnecessary callbacks are stressful for patients and also waste resources and time.

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The main drawback of 3-D mammograms is the increased cost. Not all insurers cover 3-D mammograms, and so patients may need to pay a surcharge if they opt for them. However, as of 2015, Medicare covers 3-D tests, and various state programs are starting to mandate coverage of 3-D mammograms as well. Research is ongoing on the differences in efficacy between 2-D and 3-D mammograms, and for individual patients these differences may be slight. What is certain is that mammograms are an important method of detecting early stage breast cancer. Click here to learn more about mammogram guidelines.

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