What is the Importance of a 3D Mammogram?

Avoid­ing mam­mo­gram false-positives

Breast can­cer is one of the most com­mon can­cers in women in the Unit­ed States today. As with many oth­er forms of can­cer, pre­ven­tive screen­ing is the most effec­tive tool for ear­ly detec­tion and mor­tal­i­ty reduc­tion. The Amer­i­can Col­lege of Radi­ol­o­gy and the Soci­ety of Breast Imag­ing rec­om­mend women begin annu­al mam­mo­graph­ic screen­ings at age 40.

What does a Mam­mo­gram do?

3D Mam­mog­ra­phy, also known as breast tomosyn­the­sis, is the gold stan­dard in detect­ing breast can­cer in women with aver­age risk. This advance­ment in tech­nol­o­gy allows a radi­ol­o­gist to see breast tis­sue in more detail than 2D mam­mo­grams. Tra­di­tion­al, two-dimen­sion­al mam­mo­grams could only pro­duce one con­densed view of over­lap­ping breast tis­sue; tis­sue which can hide sub­tle signs of ear­ly stage breast can­cer. A 3D scan allows the radi­ol­o­gist to view the breast one lay­er at a time, mak­ing it eas­i­er to iden­ti­fy any abnor­mal­i­ties that may be present.

While mam­mo­grams are gen­er­al­ly a very reli­able breast can­cer screen­ing method, the imag­ing may show abnor­mal­i­ties that turn out to be non-can­cer­ous. This is known as a false pos­i­tive’ result. False pos­i­tives can­not be dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed from true pos­i­tives with­out addi­tion­al test­ing, so the patient is asked to return for addi­tion­al test­ing, which may include a sec­ond mam­mo­gram, an ultra­sound or biop­sy. 3D mam­mo­grams also result in few­er false pos­i­tives than the old­er 2D technique.

Why does a False-Pos­i­tive Happen?

False-pos­i­tives occur because the breast is a com­plex mix­ture of fat­ty, fibrous and glan­du­lar tis­sues. Every wom­an’s breast com­po­si­tion is dif­fer­ent and there­fore every mam­mo­gram will look dif­fer­ent. Oth­er rea­sons for false pos­i­tives include benign cysts, benign mass­es, benign cal­ci­fi­ca­tions, and even some­thing as sim­ple as over­lap­ping nor­mal breast tis­sue. A false pos­i­tive result can be unset­tling, but if the radi­ol­o­gist finds some­thing sus­pi­cious they want to rule out can­cer quick­ly, since it is most treat­able at an ear­ly stage.

How can I Pre­vent a False-Positive?

Look­ing at the breast one lay­er at a time with 3D mam­mo­grams helps reduce the like­li­hood of false-pos­i­tives. It is worth not­ing that breast com­pres­sion, an often mis­un­der­stood part of mam­mog­ra­phy, plays a key role in reduc­ing false pos­i­tives by spread­ing out the breast tis­sues. You should also make sure your radi­ol­o­gist has access to your past mam­mo­grams for com­par­i­son. Per­form­ing reg­u­lar self-breast exams at home help you become more famil­iar with what is nor­mal for you. Make sure your mam­mo­gram is per­formed by a qual­i­fied imag­ing facil­i­ty you trust, and remem­ber, if you get called in for a sec­ond appoint­ment, stay pos­i­tive. Most of the ini­tial screen­ing abnor­mal­i­ties are due to benign causes.

Learn more about our Radi­ol­o­gy Breast Ser­vices team or call 1−630−545−7880 to sched­ule your mammogram. 

Health Topics: