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3-D mammography

Leading-edge breast imaging to give you greater peace of mind

If you have dense breast tissue you may benefit from having a 3-D mammogram. Also known as digital breast tomosynthesis, 3-D mammography creates more detailed images of your breast.

Early detection is the best protection because finding breast cancer early improves the likelihood that your treatment will be successful. Mammograms are safe and effective in detecting breast cancer in its earliest stage.

We make these recommendations for screening mammography if you have an average risk for breast cancer, based on American Cancer Society guidelines:

  • age 40-44: mammograms are optional
  • age 45-54: have a mammogram every year
  • age 55 & older: have a mammogram every year or transition to having one every two years
  • continue to have mammograms as long as your health is good

If you have a higher than average risk for breast cancer, your health care provider may recommend a different schedule. Talk to your health care provider about your risk level. Together, you can decide what screening schedule is right for you.

To help you in your decision-making, please see our shared decision making aid: Should you start breast cancer screenings at age 40 or 45?

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What it is

Three-dimensional or 3-D mammography (also known as breast tomosynthesis) creates 3-D images of your breast using low-dose digital X-rays.

How is a 2-D mammogram different than a 3-D mammogram?

A 2-D (two-dimensional) mammogram is a standard mammogram. It creates flat images of your breast.

Sometimes during a 2-D mammogram, the breast tissue can overlap while it is compressed. This can make the tissue look abnormal. If you have an abnormal mammogram, you will need to have more testing done.

2-D mammograms are safe, accurate and provide reliable results.

3-D mammograms can decrease breast tissue overlap. During the exam, the camera moves in an arc over your breast taking multiple 3-D images.

What to expect

  • You will be asked to remove your clothes from the waist up. You will be given a hospital gown or wrap to wear.
  • You will stand or sit (if you are in a wheelchair) in front of the X-ray machine.
  • The technologist will put one of your breasts on the platform.
  • Your breast will be compressed between two panels for about 10 seconds. You will feel pressure.
  • The camera will move in an arc over your breast taking multiple images.
  • After the exam is completed, the technologist will review the images. She may have to do the X-rays again if they do not give a clear image of your breast tissue.

Good to know

What are the benefits?

3-D mammography:

  • has a higher rate of finding cancer
  • decreases your chance of having to go back for more tests, which means fewer:
    • "false-positive" results (This means that there is an abnormal area but it isn't cancer.)
    • invasive testing procedures, such as a biopsy or surgery
  • can provide more detailed images of the breast if you have dense breast tissue or breast implants

What are the risks?

You will have some radiation exposure from the X-ray during the exam. However, the level of radiation exposure is safely below the American College of Radiology guidelines.

3-D mammography is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Insurance coverage

It is important to understand your health care benefits before your exam. Some insurance providers do not cover the cost of 3-D mammography.

Please call your insurance provider to find out exactly what is and isn't covered under your plan, and how much you have to pay yourself.

Related links

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Three-dimensional (3-D) Mammography
Reviewed by: Allina Health's Patient Education Department

First published: 11/16/2017
Last reviewed: 11/16/2017

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