3D mammography machine in a bright doctor's office.
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Are 3D mammograms right for you?

You may have heard about a new screening technique for early detection breast cancer mammogram exams called 3D mammography. Is this something you should consider?

There are two basic forms of breast cancer screening tests — 2D, or conventional mammography, and 3D mammography. In addition, sometimes a doctor will recommend an ultrasound test.

Most doctors and hospitals recommend conventional mammography, as there have not yet been conclusive studies demonstrating that 3D mammography yields better results.

Here’s a rundown of your breast cancer detection options:

Conventional Mammography

In a conventional mammogram, X-ray pictures of each breast are taken from two different angles. The pictures are then saved either on film or, more frequently, in the digital space.

3D Mammography

3D mammograms take X-ray pictures of thin slices of the breast from several different angles. Some doctors and hospitals use this screening process along with conventional mammography, in particular for women with dense breast tissue.


Sometimes a doctor will recommend an ultrasound imaging test along with conventional mammography. Ultrasounds send high-frequency sound waves through the breast and convert them into images. They do not involve radiation.

Doctors may also recommend ultrasounds for young women with dense breast tissue. Why? Because dense breast tissue can be more difficult to interpret with conventional mammography.

The bottom line?

The newer technology used in 3D mammography may sound enticing, but the research has not yet shown that it does a better job of detecting cancer and avoiding false positive results than conventional mammography.

Additionally, the scientific community is still unsure whether the radiation exposure is higher or similar to conventional mammography. You should also remember that 3D mammography is more expensive than conventional mammography and that many healthcare plans do not cover this form of screening.

Therefore, it may be wise to consult your doctor about your options, before spending your time and out-of-pocket dollars on 3D mammography.

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