3D Mammograms provide better evaluation of breast tissue

3D mammograms provide better evaluation
November 11th, 2015

Good breast health has many components, from healthy eating and exercise to regular self-exams.

Mammograms are also an important part of the picture. Who needs one? How often? And what’s the difference between 2-D and 3-D mammography? UCHealth has the answers you need.

Q. What is a mammogram, and at what age and how often should I get one?

A. A mammogram is an X-ray examination of the breasts that is used to detect breast cancer at its earliest possible stage, usually before it can be felt during a manual breast exam. The American College of Radiology and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network recommend that a woman of average risk begin routine annual screening mammography at age 40 and continue for as long as she is in good health. However, the American Cancer Society recommends screening starting at age 45. In cases where breast cancer runs in the family, or in other special circumstances, a doctor may recommend starting mammograms at an earlier age. UCHealth experts recommend that every woman talk to her primary care provider to determine what is best for her.

Q. What is the difference between a 2-D mammogram and a 3-D (tomosynthesis) mammogram?

A. A 2-D mammogram, whether digital or film, is an image of the breast taken from two angles: top to bottom and from the side. To do this, the breast is compressed between two plates by a stationary mammography machine. The process for a 3-D mammogram is similar except the machine acquires images from multiple angles in a single compression. The images are then reconstructed and allow the radiologist the opportunity to better evaluate the breast tissue.

Q. What are the benefits of 3-D mammography?

A. 3-D mammography yields a 40 percent increase in the breast cancer detection rate. It also lowers callback rates anywhere from 15 to 40 percent for the additional evaluation of normal overlapping tissues within the breast. These benefits are due to new functionality with 3-D mammography. The radiologist is now able to evaluate the breast tissue at both 0.1- and 1-centimeter thicknesses, which results in the increased sensitivity and specificity when interpreting mammograms.

Q. Are 3-D mammograms safe?

A. Radiation exposure to the breast is low with all mammograms. A 3-D mammogram may take a few more seconds to complete, but both exams expose patients to less radiation than they would get on a sunny Colorado day. There is no evidence that this low level of radiation has any significant effect on the breast.

Q. Is 3-D mammography available at UCHealth?

A. Yes, 3-D mammography is available at UCHealth locations throughout Colorado. In northern Colorado, 3-D mammography is currently available at the Breast Diagnostic Center at Harmony Campus in Fort Collins. 3-D mammography will be available before the end of the year at the Breast Diagnostic Center at Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland, and by summer 2016 at UCHealth’s Greeley Medical Clinic.

In the metro-Denver area, 3-D mammography is available at the Anschutz medical campus in Aurora, Lone Tree Breast Center and on UCHealth’s mobile mammography coach, The Pink Life Saver.  3-D mammography is the standard of care for all screenings.

In Colorado Springs, 3-D mammography is available at Briargate Medical Campus, and is coming soon to Printers Park Medical Building.

Q. Do I need a referral or need to request a 3-D mammography when I go in for my annual exam?

A. A referral is required for screening mammography in northern Colorado whether it is a 2-D or 3-D mammogram. Many providers have routine standing screening orders for patients older than the age of 40. Please check with the Breast Diagnostic Center to see if a referral is needed from your health care provider.
At UCHealth Metro Denver (University of Colorado Hospital) and at UCHealth Colorado Springs (Memorial Hospital), no referral is needed. A patient, however, needs to be 40 years or older, have a primary care physician, insurance and a photo ID. Women under 40 years of age, or with any breast problems, will need a doctor referral.

Q. Will my insurance cover a 3-D mammogram? Will I have any out-of-pocket expenses?

A. Some insurance companies are covering 3-D mammography and some are not covering it yet. Check with your insurance company prior to your visit.

Charges may vary depending upon the location from which you receive care and typically include a facility charge and a professional fee for the interpreting radiologist.

At the UCHealth Breast Diagnostic Center on the Harmony Campus in Fort Collins, you may have an additional out-of-pocket-expense of approximately $75 for a routine screening 3-D mammogram. This $75 covers both the technical and professional fees associated with the new technology. You may choose a 2-D or a 3-D mammogram.

Q. Where do I go for more information?

A. Call the Gloria Gossard Breast Care Center in Steamboat Springs at 970-875-2604. Call the Breast Diagnostic Center in northern Colorado at 970.207.4700. Call the UCH Breast Imaging Center about services or The Pink Life Saver at 720.848.1030. The Lone Tree Breast Center can be reached at 720.553.2100. Call the Mary Lou Beshears Breast Care Center in Colorado Springs at 719.365.2900.