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3D Mammography - Procedure and Risks

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A 3D mammography is an improved tool used for screening breast cancer, and it uses low-dose X-rays to create images. Read the article to know more about it.

Written by

Dr. Saranya. P

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Richa Agarwal

Published At May 17, 2024
Reviewed AtJune 5, 2024

What Is 3D Mammography?

Digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT) or breast tomosynthesis (BTS) are other names for three-dimensional (3D) mammography. It is an improved method for detecting breast cancer. A low-dose X-ray is utilized in this method. A combination of several X-rays obtained at various angles is used to produce a three-dimensional image of the breast tissue. The actual test feels and looks a lot like a typical mammography, but the results provide the doctor with more insight into the condition behind the surface.

According to numerous studies, 3D mammography seems to reduce the likelihood of being contacted for additional testing following screening. Several studies have demonstrated that it can be beneficial for women with dense breasts, and it also seems to detect more breast cancers.

Who Requires 3D Mammography?

Doctors may suggest 3D mammograms to look into unusual bumps or assist in pinpointing the origin of any discomfort a patient may be experiencing. All females over 40 are advised to have a yearly 3D mammography breast screening by the American Society of Breast Surgeons. It further states that starting at age 35, women who have a higher likelihood of breast cancer should get screened annually. A 3D mammography might also be necessary for those who exhibit unusual breast disease symptoms or signs.

How Are 3D Mammograms Performed?

In reality, a 3D mammography begins with the acquisition of traditional 2D X-ray pictures. However, a 3D mammography can take hundreds of pictures, whereas a standard mammogram only captures four.

Each X-ray image depicts a layer of the breast that is roughly the thickness of a credit card. These images are combined with the help of a computer to provide a three-dimensional representation of the breast tissue.

Each breast is imaged twice during a standard mammogram: once from the top and once from the side. A 3D mammography system can also take these conventional pictures. The screening will be deeper if the physician has access to more photos.

What Exactly Can It Detect?

A 3D mammography detects abnormalities similar to those of a conventional one. They are most commonly employed in the screening of individuals who do not exhibit any symptoms or indicators of breast cancer. However, they also assist medical professionals in looking into symptoms such as tumors, discharge from the nipples, and other alterations.

A radiologist or physician with expertise in imaging testing will review the results of the mammography. Upon reviewing the mammography, doctors will check for breast density, masses, calcium deposits, variations in the breasts with time, and differences between them.

What Happens During the Test?

  • Individuals will probably be required to fill out documents regarding their medical history when they initially arrive for the examination. After that, they will be asked to remove any clothing and jewelry covering the waist. They will be provided a gown to wear and instructed to remove any powder or deodorant.

  • A woman undergoing the test will be instructed to stand in front of the machine.

  • The technician will help position the head, torso, and arms, along with positioning the breast on the platform.

  • Then, the plastic plate is kept in position to compress the breast opposing the platform. Flattening the breast facilitates better, more comprehensive imaging by facilitating X-ray penetration of the tissue.

  • It might be painful, but if there is more discomfort, one can inform the technician.

  • If everything is in place, the technician will switch on the machine. The machine will take multiple images.

  • Then, the breast will be repositioned between the plates, and images will be taken from a different angle.

  • Then, the same procedure will be repeated for the second breast.

  • The complete time taken for this process will be ten minutes.

  • The technician will verify that the photos are clear after they are finished. Then, the woman who underwent this test can change their clothes.

  • Once the test is over, the woman can go home.

What Are the Difficulties of 3D Mammography?

After mammography, people can experience some soreness, but it is usually not too severe. Larger-breasted women might want to think about wearing an underwire-free bra following the surgery to lessen any pain. See a healthcare professional if one experiences soreness, pain, or bruising longer than 24 hours following the mammography.

How the Results Are Interpreted?

Results are typically received in two weeks. Certain centers could have the ability to retrieve them far quicker. It could take a little bit longer to read a 3D mammography than a 2D one. Results from mammograms might include information on breast density and benign and other kinds of breast alterations. Dense breasts do not necessarily indicate a health issue. However, breast density can impact general cancer risk and complicate reading a mammogram.

Patients can also be recommended for a biopsy if their mammography reveals a worrisome spot. During a biopsy, a sample of breast tissue is taken to examine it for malignancy.

A BI-RADS (Breast Imaging-Reporting and Data System) number and a description of any findings will be included in the findings. This figure is the probability that the results from the mammography are malignant. Greater numbers suggest a higher probability of breast cancer and can point to the necessity of a shorter follow-up period. For example, a score of three indicates that the breasts are most likely healthy, but one should come back in six months for a follow-up.

Is There Any Risk Associated With 3D Mammography?

Like other X-rays, mammograms expose one to minimal radiation levels. Radiation exposure from 2D and 3D mammography is substantially similar. In actuality, the amount of radiation exposed during a 3D mammography may differ from that of a 2D mammography. The radiation released during mammography is approximately equivalent to the background radiation that a typical person is exposed to once every seven weeks.


Although 3D technology for mammograms is relatively new, several medical facilities are implementing it. While the procedure is the same as for traditional mammography, 3D mammograms provide a more comprehensive picture of the tissues in the breast than 2D mammograms. This facilitates the detection of abnormal growths and other breast problems.

Dr. Richa Agarwal
Dr. Richa Agarwal

Obstetrics and Gynecology


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