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Diagnosing Breast Cancer Earlier with
3D Mammograms

HealthReach, Winter 2013 | Page 7

The Women’s Imaging Center at Virginia Hospital Center is recognized as a Breast Imaging Center of Excellence by the American College of Radiology (ACR). It meets the ACR’s rigorous standards for accreditation in mammography, stereotactic breast biopsy, breast ultrasound and ultrasound-guided biopsy.
Awards & Recognition >

The Women’s Imaging Center is now offering
3D mammography, also known as breast tomosynthesis, a new, cutting-edge screening tool for breast cancer. Sarah Mezban, MD, a radiologist who is fellowship-trained in breast imaging, explains how 3D mammography works and why it’s an important advance in early breast cancer detection.

What is 3D mammography?

3D mammography allows doctors to examine breast tissue one layer at a time. It uses high-powered computing to convert digital breast images into a stack of very thin layers, or slices, building what is essentially a threedimensional mammogram.

What is the difference between 3D mammography and conventional digital mammography?

Conventional digital mammography is still one of the most advanced technologies available for diagnosing breast cancer; however, it shows all the breast tissue at a glance where one feature can hide in the shadow of another.

3D imaging eliminates or reduces the superimposing shadow and a radiologist can see and search through your breast in 1 mm layers, almost like turning pages in a book. This makes it easier for doctors to determine if there’s any cause for concern, and decreases the chance for a tumor to hide behind overlapping tissue.

3D mammography locates tumors that are harder to find or may have been missed by conventional mammography. It also means there is less chance that your doctor will call you back for a second look because now all of the breast tissue can be seen more clearly.

Who should have a 3D mammogram exam?

It is approved for all women who would undergo their annual screening or diagnostic mammogram. It is helpful to all women, regardless of their breast density.

What happens during the exam?

Currently, 3D mammography complements, but does not replace, the standard two-dimensional digital mammogram and it only takes a few more seconds for each view. Both mammograms are done at the same time, using the same compression and mammography system. The X-ray mammography machine sweeps over the breast from one side to the other in a slight arch motion and a series of digital images are obtained and processed to generate the 3D images.

Are there any risks?

Just as with conventional mammography, 3D mammography uses very low doses of X-rays. The total radiation dose is similar to a conventional digital mammogram and is safely below the guidelines approved by the American College of Radiology.

Will my insurance pay for a 3D mammogram?

Because this technology is so new, 3D mammography is not covered by insurance at this time. There is an additional $50 charge for the 3D mammogram and it is done only at the patient’s request. The charge for the conventional mammogram is billed to the patient’s insurance.

Do I need a physician referral for a 3D mammogram?

You will need a referral from your physician to schedule your digital screening or diagnostic mammogram, but your doctor does not have to specifically order the 3D mammogram. If you are interested in having a 3D mammogram, please notify the scheduler when you call to make an appointment.

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