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3-D Mammogram (Tomosynthesis)

3-dimensional (3-D) images of the breast

A mammogram is the best way to screen for breast cancer.  A 3-D mammogram—also called tomosynthesis—provides the most detailed picture of breast tissue. Where a 2-D mammogram takes flat images, a 3-D mammogram takes several images from several angles, which are combined by a computer to produce a three-dimensional image of your breast. 3-D mammograms are especially beneficial for women who have a high risk of developing breast cancer or have dense breast tissue.  

At Allina Health, mammography is an important tool in protecting your overall health and wellness. Together, you and your health care provider will decide how often you need a mammogram—and how to follow up if your images show anything out of the ordinary. At every step, your health care team will work with you to create a breast-health plan that meets your specific needs. 

Find a 3-D mammogram location near you to schedule your breast screening today. 

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What is a 3-D mammogram?

What you experience during a 3-D mammogram is very similar to a standard 2-D mammogram. For both procedures, your breast will be compressed between two panels while an X-ray is taken. Both procedures take about the same amount of time, and a mammography technologist will be there to help you through either type of mammogram.  

3-D mammogram versus 2-D 

  • 2-D mammogram takes a small number of flat images 

  • In a 3-D mammogram, the camera moves in an arc over your breast, taking a series of images. Each image is like a thin slice or cross-section of breast tissue. When these images are put together, they provide a clearer and more detailed picture of your breast tissue, especially dense breast tissue. 

Benefits of 3-D mammogram

There are a number of benefits with a 3-D mammogram, including:

  • higher rate of finding cancer 

  • higher rate of finding early cancer 

  • more sensitivity to detect invasive cancer 

  • decreases your chance of having to go back for more images or tests  

  • can provide more detailed images for women with dense breast tissue or breast implants 

3-D mammograms are a good option for women with dense breast tissue

  • About half of all women have dense breast tissue. 

  • Dense breast tissue means that you have more glandular (milk-producing) breast tissue than fatty tissue.  

  • Having dense breast tissue on a mammogram can make it more difficult to see breast cancer. 

Learn more about dense breast tissue.  

Guidelines for mammogram screening

How often should you get a mammogram? When to start having mammograms to screen for breast cancer, and how often to have them, is a personal decision. It should be based on your age, your values and your risk for developing breast cancer. 

Allina Health’s mammogram screening guidelines are based on the 2015 American Cancer Society recommendations: 

  • Age 25: Have a risk assessment for breast cancer with your health care provider 

  • Age 40-44: Consider having a mammogram every year, following guidance from your health care provider. He or she will explain the benefits and harms of screening.  Resource: Should you start breast cancer screening at 40 or 45? 

  • Age 45-54: Have a mammogram every year. 

  • Age 55 and older: Have a mammogram every year or transition to having one every 2 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. Together, you can decide what screening schedule is right for you. 

It’s also important to remember that approximately 70-75 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history. 

Find a 3-D mammogram location near you to schedule your breast screening today. 

What to expect at your 3-D mammogram

  • Preparing for a mammogram. You may wonder what to wear to a mammogram. Keep in mind that you’ll be asked to undress from the waist up and will be given a hospital gown or robe to wear. Do not wear deodorant, powder, perfume, ointment, cream on your breasts or underarms. It’s also a good idea to try to schedule your mammogram after your menstrual period when your breasts are less likely to be tender or swollen. 

  • During your mammogram. A mammogram involves compressing your breast between two panels while an X-ray is taken. Compression is important to get a clear image of the breast tissue. A  technologist who specializes in mammography will position your breast on the machine.. The panels compress your breast for a few seconds while the technologist takes an X-ray. The exam takes about 20 minutes.  

  • After your mammogram.  A radiologist will interpret (read) your mammogram. He or she will compare the new images with any past mammograms. The radiologist will send the results to your health care provider and to you via:

    • Allina Health account: you will get your results within 1 to 2 days.  (You may see your results before they have been reviewed by your health care provider.) 
    • USPS mail:  you will received your results in 7 to 10 days. 

Cost of a 3-D mammogram and insurance coverage

A 3-D mammogram  costs more than a standard 2-D mammogram,  Most health insurance plans cover preventative mammograms-with not out-of-pocket costs- every  year for women starting at age 40. This is also true if you use Medicare and Medicaid.   Check with your insurance provider before  your appointment to find out exactly what is and isn’t covered under your plan, and how much you have to pay yourself.  

Who performs a 3-D mammogram?

Your mammogram involves cooperation between health care providers. A mammography technologist is specially trained to guide you through your mammogram, get you into the right position for the exam, operate the mammography machine and confirm the quality of the images. A radiologist will interpret the images and create a report, which is shared with your health care provider. Your health care provider will talk about the results with you as part of your overall health care.  

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: 8/30/2021