Healthier Together

Fall 2016 issue
Women's Health | 3-D mammography

Women's Health | 3-D mammography


What is it? And is it right for you?

3-D mammography sounds high-tech — and it is. Also called digital breast tomosynthesis, 3-D mammography allows each breast to be imaged from multiple angles, providing more detail than standard two-dimensional mammograms. That means the test can detect cancer earlier than a standard mammogram.

Collectively, these images provide 1-millimeter-thin snapshots of the breast tissue. Better angles and a clearer view help with a more accurate diagnosis of potential problems that may be hidden from sight by overlapping normal tissues.

“It’s as if there was a book, and we’re reading through the pages, so we get to see the breast in a much more detailed view,” said Sangeeta Srivastava, MD, a radiologist at Virginia Radiology Associates and director of women’s imaging for the breast center at Novant Health UVA Health System Prince William Medical Center and Novant Health UVA Health System Haymarket Medical Center.

Do you need a 3-D mammogram?

Women who benefit most from the higher level of detail with tomosynthesis are those with dense breasts and those who have an increased risk of breast cancer.

However, starting at age 40, women may benefit from an annual 3-D mammogram, as the technology has been shown to increase breast cancer early detection while decreasing callback rates. Talk to your primary care provider to determine if 3-D mammography is right for you. If it is, then you have two choices where you can get one: Novant Health UVA Health System Culpeper Medical Center and Novant Health UVA Health System Haymarket Medical Center.

What to expect

You do not need to have a traditional two-dimensional mammogram before you can receive a 3-D mammogram. Most women will not notice much difference between the two procedures — tomosynthesis takes only four more seconds per view and uses a slightly higher dose of radiation than standard mammography.

During a 3-D mammogram, a digital X-ray tube moves in an arc over the patient and takes multiple images that are compiled by a computer. After 3-D imaging is complete, the machine will move back to the center and take the traditional two-dimensional pictures.

Dr. Srivastava notes that patients are exposed to similarly low amounts of radiation for both tomosynthesis and conventional two-dimensional mammograms.

The compression used during a mammogram does not harm the breast and actually improves the quality of the images. But let your technologist know if you experience pain during the exam so the equipment can be adjusted appropriately.