3D or 2D: Understanding the Different Types of Mammography

Wednesday, October 28, 2015 - 11:19am

You may have heard about a technology called 3D mammography. We get quite a few questions about it from patients in our Breast Center. I’m very happy to announce that we now have the capability to offer 3D mammograms at the Roswell Park Mammography Center, but it’s important to understand what 3D mammography is used for and who will benefit most from the technology.  

What is 3D mammography?

Three-dimensional (3D) mammography, also known as digital breast tomosynthesis, is the latest mammogram technology being used for breast cancer screening.

How does 3D mammography work?

A 3D scan takes a series of x-rays of the breast from different angles and then creates a 3-dimensional image of the breast. The breast is positioned and compressed in the same way as a conventional mammogram. Studies show that this technology increases the detection of invasive breast cancers. Tomosynthesis has also been shown to decrease the recall rate – the number of women who need additional mammogram views to evaluate a possible abnormality.

Who should have a 3D scan?

Women with dense breast tissue will likely benefit most from tomosynthesis. Dense breast tissue means a woman has more glandular tissue compared to fatty tissue. On a mammogram, glandular tissue appears white and fatty tissue appears gray. However, cancer is also white on a mammogram. Since the radiologist is able to view the breast as thin slices, a 3D mammogram can better differentiate a cancer from overlying glandular tissue, increasing cancer detection and decreasing chances of a “false positive.”

What about women who are at high risk?

We recommend that women at high risk for developing breast cancer – due to personal or family history of breast or ovarian cancer, a known genetic mutation, or prior chest radiation treatment – have a comprehensive risk assessment. Our team will provide a personalized surveillance and prevention plan, which may include 3D mammography or annual breast MRI, and potentially genetic counseling and testing. Not sure if you’re high risk? Call 1-877-ASK-RPCI (1-877-275-7724) or fill out the online assessment form.

Is 3D mammography better than 2D?

Incrementally, yes. 3D mammography has higher cancer detection rates—not vastly better, but a definite improvement over 2D. 3D mammography also has a lower recall rate, meaning that fewer women need to return for additional images.

What do women need to know about mammography?

Women age 40 and older should have an annual mammogram, regardless of whether it’s 2D or 3D. Mammography is the only test that has been shown in multiple studies to lower a woman’s risk of dying from breast cancer.