Imagine trying to find a white spot on a white background. It would be difficult, right? That’s one of the challenges faced by our radiologists when examining the mammograms of women with dense breasts.
The stakes are high: That white spot could be an indicator of breast cancer, and the sooner breast cancer is detected, the more beatable and treatable it is.
Fortunately, a 3D mammogram provides our physicians with a much better view that helps them detect breast cancer at its earliest stages.
What’s the Difference Between a Regular Mammogram and a 3D Mammogram?
Have you ever wondered how a mammogram works? Knowing the answer will help you appreciate the difference 3D technology can make.
A mammogram works by using two plates to compress or flatten the breast tissue. This is necessary because the X-rays used in a mammogram don’t easily pass through tissue. The X-ray dosages used in a mammogram are much lower than those used in “regular” X-rays, according to information from the American Cancer Society.
Previously, mammograms were printed on sheets of film, but digital mammograms, also known as FFDM, are created as files that can be saved into a computer and easily shared among your providers.
So what makes a 3D mammogram different? At first glance, the two machines appear very similar. However, in a 3D mammogram, the machine takes many pictures of the breast as it moves around it. Then, these images are compiled to create a more detailed, three-dimensional picture. This not only allows doctors to see the tissue more clearly, but it is particularly helpful in finding abnormalities if you have dense breasts.
The Mayo Clinic explains the difference this way: A 3D mammogram uses 300 images. A regular, 2D mammogram uses four.
Should I have a 3D Mammogram Instead of A Regular One?
Of course, this depends upon your situation. If you are at high risk for developing breast cancer or you have dense breasts, you should speak to your provider about the benefits of a 3D mammogram.
What Are Dense Breasts?
Breasts are comprised of many types of tissue. They have milk ducts, glands, fat and supportive tissue. The supportive tissue is the dense breast tissue. On a mammogram, this dense tissue appears white, which makes it extremely challenging to determine if a tumor is present. There is nothing abnormal about dense breasts, however, they may be linked to an increased risk in the development of breast cancer.
Important Tips for Getting a Mammogram
We understand that getting a mammogram is not something you look forward to, but we try to make the experience as pleasant as possible. For your comfort, we’d like to offer the following tips:
- During your period, your breasts can be swollen or tender. Therefore, try not to schedule your mammogram either during your period or the week before you get your period.
- Be aware that deodorant, baby powder or perfume will show up as white spots on the mammogram, so do not wear them the day of the exam.
- For a mammogram, you’ll be asked to undress from the waist up. Therefore, a lot of women find it more comfortable to wear a blouse with a skirt or pants instead of a dress.
Don’t Overlook the Importance of a Baseline Mammogram
If you’re not sure what a baseline mammogram is, you’re not alone. A baseline mammogram is an important tool our radiologists use to help detect breast cancer.
You see, one of the indicators of breast cancer is a change in the breast tissue. Of course, if you don’t know what your breast tissue looks like to begin with, it’s hard to detect any changes. A baseline mammogram helps our radiologists detect changes that could be indicative of cancer or even benign conditions.
Many women don’t realize how important a baseline mammogram is. In fact, the Journal of the American College of Radiology published a study about it. The study indicated that among 401 women who have yearly mammograms, almost half had never heard of a baseline mammogram. Unfortunately, 67 percent of those women did not think it was important.
I’ve Heard About the BRCA “Breast Cancer Gene.” Should I Be Tested for it?
This blood test analyzes your DNA so it can identify any changes in two different types of genes: BRCA1 and BRCA2. If you have these mutations, then you’re at a greater risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers.
However, this doesn’t mean that every woman should be tested for the gene. In fact, it’s not typically performed on those who have only an average risk of these cancers.
According to the Mayo Clinic suitable candidates for a BRCA gene test are those who have had:
- Breast cancer before the age of 50
- Breast cancer in both breasts
- A history of both ovarian cancer and breast cancer
- Breast cancer in close relatives, especially if those relatives developed cancer at an early age
- Relatives who have had pancreatic cancer
- A male in the family who has had breast cancer
- Any relative who has already been diagnosed with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation
Will my insurance cover a 3D Mammogram or BRCA testing?
This depends upon your individual insurance coverage. Speak with your policy representative to receive a complete and accurate list of your benefits.
While we can’t speak for your insurance company, typically, BRCA testing is only covered if you meet some of the criteria outlined above.
3D Mammograms Are Only One of the Many Services Offered Through Our Diagnostic Imaging Services
At Conway Medical Center, we get the picture—literally.
When you need a mammogram or MRI, you can rest assured that you have access to the most technologically advanced software and equipment. Our technology rivals that found in larger hospitals, but because our hospital is smaller than major research-based university health systems, you can discover the personal touch and dedicated compassion that defines Conway Medical Center.
Our imaging center features nationally registered and state-certified technologists and an experienced team of board-certified radiologists. You’ll receive world-class care from the front desk to the technician assisting you to the radiologist who is interpreting the results.
We are accredited by the American College of Radiology in mammography, MRI, ultrasound and nuclear medicine.
If it’s time for your regular mammogram, or if you need to have a baseline mammogram, please contact us so you can take advantage of our technological expertise. We would welcome the opportunity to serve you.
Journal of the American College of Radiology, Volume 16, Issue 2, February 2019, Pages 164-169. Online.
Centers for Disease Control. “What is Breast Cancer?” Online.
The Mayo Clinic. “Breast Cancer.” Online.