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Healthier Together

Fall 2017 issue
Low-dose 3-D mammograms offer peace of mind

Low-dose 3-D mammograms offer peace of mind


Catching breast cancer early is key to survival, and a 3-D mammogram is the latest tool for early detection. Now women can get the best of both worlds — a 3-D breast scan at the lower radiation dose of a traditional mammogram — close to home in Culpeper.

The change is good news for women who could benefit from a more detailed mammogram but who want to keep the radiation dose the same as for a traditional, two-dimensional mammogram. Before Culpeper Medical Center’s upgrade, the 3-D dose was slightly higher than for a two-dimensional scan.

“Women gain the benefits, such as improved cancer detection and decreased false positives, of a 3-D mammogram, but at that same two-dimensional mammogram dose,” said Brandi Nicholson, MD, associate professor of radiology at Culpeper Medical Center, and a fellowship-trained breast imager. “Another benefit is the time of compression is shorter, and even though it’s just a few seconds, it makes a difference.”

The technology behind the 3-D mammogram is relatively new. The 3-D scan produces multiple pictures from different angles to create a 3-D picture of the breast. And 3-D mammography, also known as digital breast tomosynthesis, is especially helpful for women with dense breast tissue, because such tissue makes tumors hard to spot with traditional two-dimensional mammograms. That’s a concern, because dense tissue is common — nearly half of women ages 40 to 74 have it — and a risk factor for breast cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health.

The good news, said Dr. Nicholson, is that the radiation dose for all types of mammography is low and safe, so it’s important to talk with your doctor to determine what the best option is for you.

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