What’s a 3D mammogram and do I need one?

Technology for detecting breast cancer continues to advance.

Vui Mai, MD, from the Fairview clinic in Princeton, MN, offers his insight on your mammogram choices.

I’m consistently encouraged by how much patients are interested in the latest information about mammograms. They show up to their doctor appointments armed with information and questions, ready to learn about their options and discuss what’s right for them.

Most of my female patients have seen a friend, family member, or loved one go through breast cancer. They understand the stakes. About 12 percent of women in the U.S. will develop breast cancer at some point in their lives. Breast cancer is also the second leading cause of cancer deaths for women in the U.S.

The good news is that the number of women who die from breast cancer has dropped 39 percent from 1989 to 2015, according to the American Cancer Society. One of the most significant factors in this drop is the increase in mammograms.

Mammograms take X-rays of the breast to detect tumors before they can be felt. The earlier we can identify signs of cancer, the greater the chances of successful treatment. 

Mammograms have become even more effective thanks to new technology. 3-D mammograms have been available since 2011, giving us more opportunity to detect cancer than traditional 2-D mammograms.

How 2-D and 3-D mammograms compare

Both types of mammograms feel the same for the patient, take just a few minutes, and use only a small amount of radiation. But the tests generate different images. 

Traditional 2-D mammograms provide a view of your breasts from the top and bottom, while the 3-D test looks at breast tissue from multiple angles. Studies show an improved cancer detection rate and lower rate of false positives with the 3-D mammogram.

All insurance plans are required to cover the cost of 2-D mammograms for women starting at age 40, and they’re still a good tool for detecting breast cancer. Medicare covers 3D mammograms, but only some private insurance plans do. Some may add a surcharge.

Deciding what’s right for you

Together we can weigh the options. The most important thing to me is to begin the dialogue.

My advice to women about mammograms is this: Talk with your doctor about what you want. Ask questions. Raise your concerns. Listen, and make sure you’re being listened to. 

I believe deeply in the power of preventive care. I grew up in Vietnam, a country where screenings like mammograms are not available to most people. I’ve watched relatives who didn’t have access to early detection tools or modern treatment options die of breast cancer. In fact, this was one of the things that inspired me to become a doctor.

I now have the privilege of living in a country where women have the tools to not only fight, but win against breast cancer. Mammograms are one of those tools. Communicate openly and thoughtfully with your doctor about how to make them work for you. 

To schedule a mammogram, choose one of these 33 convenient locations.

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