Do you need a 3-D mammogram? What you need to know

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“It helps us pick up small cancers”

By Ashton Miller

3-D mammograms have been shown to detect 40 percent more cancer cases than the standard mammogram, according to a study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

This fall, Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center in Bolivia, North Carolina and Novant Health Thomasville Medical Center in Thomasville, North Carolina, began offering 3-D mammography to patients in the surrounding communities. With the addition of these two facilities, the Novant Health system now has 12 locations offering this new technology.

Dr. Adam Braithwaite, a radiologist with Delaney Radiology and director of breast imaging at Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center, provided insight about how 3-D mammography works.

What’s different?

The 3-D mammography technology allows a woman’s breast to be imaged from multiple angles. The angled images provide 1-millimeter-thin snapshots of the breast tissue that, collectively, provide radiologists a more detailed, three-dimensional view than standard two-dimensional mammograms.

Braithwaite said the new technology allows providers to have better visibility and more accurately detect cases of breast cancer.

“In the past, a standard image would be two images of each breast,” Braithwaite said. “With the 3-D mammogram, the procedure is the same, but the camera rotates and takes multiple photos so we get a seamless view of the breast.”

Braithwaite said this technology allows radiologists to look through the breast and uncover little masses or areas of distortion.

“It helps us pick up small cancers that we otherwise would have missed,” he said. “It also reduces call backs and anxiety for patients.”

What to expect

Most women wouldn’t notice much difference between a 3-D mammogram and a standard digital mammogram. “The examination itself is almost identical for patients,” Braithwaite said. “It just takes about four seconds longer per view.”

During a 3-D mammogram, an X-ray tube moves in an arc over the patient and takes multiple low-dose images that are regenerated by a computer. After 3-D imaging is complete, the machine will move back to the center and take the regular two-dimensional, or standard, mammogram pictures.

Why you might need one

Women who would most greatly benefit from 3-D mammography are those with dense breasts and those who have an increased risk of breast cancer.

Contrary to popular belief, what constitutes “dense breasts” has nothing to do with breast size. Breast tissue is made of both fatty tissue and glandular tissue, the latter of which causes the density.

“When you have dense breast tissue, it can be difficult to see little masses or things hiding within the dense tissue,” Braithwaite said. “3-D mammography allows us to look through the entire breast and detect more cases of cancer.”

Visit to schedule your mammogram appointment. Same-day and walk-in appointments are available. If you think 3-D mammography is appropriate for you, simply request it when you call. Depending on your insurance plan, additional fees may apply.

For a list of Novant Health locations that offer 3-D mammograms, click here.

With the demands of juggling work and family, it can be difficult to find time to take care of yourself. Download our women’s health guide today.

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