As any doctor will tell you, the sooner breast cancer is detected, the better the chance that treatment will be successful.
But when it comes to screening for breast cancer, women often are presented with a choice – digital mammography or three-dimensional (3-D) mammograms. This raises the question – what’s the difference between the two and is one better than the other?
A mammogram uses X-rays to scan your breasts and allows your doctor to check for anything irregular. For many years, these images were recorded on film. More recently, digital mammograms have become the standard, enabling healthcare providers to store and analyze images using a computer.
The process for digital mammograms is similar to the earlier mammograms: the patient positions their breasts between two plates by flattening and compressing them to get the perfect angle to capture as much tissue as possible. Images are then taken from top to bottom and side to side. Whereas film mammograms are saved on hard files, the X-rays taken digitally are turned into electric signals stored on a computer. Many women complain of the discomfort of such mammograms, even though the process only takes a few minutes and can detect a tumor with significant accuracy.
Doctors now are offering a new type of digital test – 3-D mammography. Also known as tomosynthesis (or tomo), 3-D mammograms use the same X-ray technology and method as two-dimensional mammograms. The difference is that with 2-D mammograms, images are only taken from the front and side – which may create images of overlapping breast tissue – while 3-D mammography renders images of the breast in multiple “slices” from various angles. This makes it easier to find potentially worrisome abnormalities.
Access and Detection
Although 3-D mammography is more expensive than 2-D, many studies have concluded that it is slightly better at detecting cancer. And since 2013, the Food and Drug Administration has determined that low-dose 3-D digital mammography is at least as accurate as 2-D digital images, which can also be obtained from 3-D mammography data.
In terms of health care coverage, 2-D digital screening mammograms are free for patients covered by healthcare insurance under the Affordable Care Act. And although some insurers do not cover 3-D mammograms, while others charge a surcharge, Medicare began covering them in 2015 and a number of states have begun to mandate coverage.
Regarding radiation exposure, a 3-D mammogram takes a few second longer than a 2-D digital mammogram, but newer, low dose mammography uses less radiation than conventional 2-D mammography.
While medical experts now agree that most women only need to undergo screening mammography every two years, it’s still an essential safeguard to maintaining your health. Not only can mammography detect abnormal growths in the breast that may be too small or deeply buried to be felt in regular breast self-examination, it can also be used to evaluate breast implants for possible rupture.
At Independent Imaging, we provide state-of-the-art 3-D digital mammography that offers superior image quality and performance. To learn more about our mammography services, call Independent Imaging at (561) 795-5558 to request an appointment, or use our online request an appointment form.