Mammograms are the most valuable and powerful tool a doctor has to screen for and diagnose breast cancer. Mammograms are quick, noninvasive, and can be life-saving. A 2020 study even shows that mammograms can reduce the risk of dying from breast cancer within 10 years by an astounding 41%. Whether you’re experiencing symptoms of breast cancer or not, mammograms should be a part of every woman’s “fitness over 40” plan with their doctor.
Dr. Vonda Wright views your 40’s as “prime time” to really get to know your body and develop a strong baseline for the rest of your years to come. Early detection of breast cancer can be life saving and the technology to detect it has improved significantly with the introduction of 3D mammograms.
How Do Mammograms Work?
There is a lot of mystery looming around mammograms. Many women are nervous and avoid scheduling mammograms because they believe the procedure will be painful or they don’t think they’re necessary because they haven’t experienced signs of breast cancer. With breast cancer holding its rank as the most lethal cancer in women in the United States, we at Women’s Health Conversations decided to take some time to dispel any myths surrounding mammograms and share what you can expect with your next 3D mammogram.
Mammograms are an imaging test that detects changes and abnormalities in the breast tissue. During a mammogram, a technician places the breast between two plates; one plate moves in multiple directions to take images of the breast tissue while the other holds the breast in place. Pressure can be applied to flatten the tissue and better detect any abnormalities. This is the biggest cause of anxiety for women regarding mammograms. While mammograms may have caused discomfort in the past, new machines are designed to flex with the body and apply pressure only when necessary. Nowadays, technicians are also much more mindful of the discomfort and many are willing to take measures to make you feel more comfortable throughout the test by using padding or blankets whenever possible.
Mammograms can bring out a lot of anxiety in women from the test itself, to the results. If a radiographer or doctor detects anything worth investigating further, they may recommend additional mammograms or a biopsy to see if the growth is potentially cancerous. However, the advancement of mammograms from 2D to 3D imaging has provided an even more accurate way to detect cancer in its earliest stages and avoid false alarms.
The Upgrade from 2D to 3D
Though 2D and 3D mammograms seem virtually the same from the patient’s point of view, the difference in results is dramatic. Traditionally, a 2D mammogram would provide 4 pictures of the breast tissue. However, with 3D tests, this number jumps to an astounding 80 images. By taking thinner 1mm “slices” of images from multiple angles, this allows the radiographer to penetrate dense breast tissue and detect growths that would otherwise go undetected. Researchers found that 3D mammography increased breast cancer detection rates by more than 40 percent. This means finding and removing smaller, early-stage tumors before they have the chance to grow.
A huge part of the mammogram experience is not the test itself, it’s getting the results back. Wait times and additional testing can be nerve-wracking. While dense 2D images can be clouded, 3D images are much thinner and tumors become more distinguishable. The increased accuracy of these images means decreasing “call back” rates for suspicious findings by up to 15% and reducing the anxiety and uncertainty that cancer testing can bring about.
The Bottom Line
3D mammography has proven benefits with powerful impacts, but it can be cost-prohibitive. Being that it is such a new technology, mostly spearheaded by one company, most insurance companies haven’t included 3D mammograms in their policies. 3D mammography devices have the ability to also take 2D images, so the insurance companies may leave the patient responsible for the costs of the remaining 3D portion, roughly $50-100.
While 2D mammography is also a powerful and unprecedented tool for detecting breast cancer, 3D technology is able to see through the cracks and detect even the smallest of tumors – and this can make all the difference. The American Cancer Society predicts that in 2020, about 276,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in the United States alone, and roughly 42,000 women will die of it. They have also found that cases have increased slightly throughout the years, making early detection and treatment much more crucial.
Frankly, the value that 3D mammograms are able to provide over 2D tests is enough to make them the new norm. If one of the biggest criticisms of 3D mammograms is that they might detect too much that may not be cancerous, we still consider that a win over 2D technology and believe that whenever able, women should opt into 3D for their next annual mammogram.