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2D vs. 3D Mammography

2D vs. 3D Mammography: What’s the Difference?

A mammogram is an X-ray picture of the breast that can find breast cancer early — before you can feel it as a lump.

When you find breast cancer early, it’s more easily treated. That’s why it’s important to follow your doctor’s recommendations for screening mammograms. Screening mammograms look for signs of breast cancer when you don’t have any symptoms. The radiologist will compare the results with your last mammogram to look for changes.

With advancements in breast cancer diagnostic technology, many breast centers now offer you a choice when you get your mammogram: a 2D or a 3D mammogram, also called tomosynthesis. Both types use a low-dose X-ray to examine the breast, and they release about the same amount of radiation. The experience of having a 3D mammogram will feel the same as with a 2D mammogram, but 3D imaging takes a few seconds longer.

They differ in how they take images and show results:

  • 2D mammograms take pictures of each breast from the front and the side to create a single image of each breast. This can show areas of overlapping breast tissue on the images.
  • 3D mammograms take many pictures of each breast from different angles, showing each layer of breast tissue. A computer puts the images together to create 3D views of the breasts. Radiologists can also look at the individual layers to see tiny details that could signal cancer.

A 3D mammogram allows the radiologist to see breast tissue more clearly, which may make it less likely that something is mistaken for cancer (called a false-positive result). That can help avoid a follow-up imaging appointment and the stress and expense that comes with it. Also, because finer details are visible, 3D mammography may be able to find more cancers that might otherwise be hidden.

El Camino Health is committed to providing the best care possible to our patients. As part of that commitment, we invest in the best technology available for screening and early detection, including 3D mammography.

Who Can Benefit from a 3D Mammogram?

All women can benefit from breast tomosynthesis — especially some women with dense breast tissue, which can make it difficult to spot abnormalities. While many insurance carriers cover tomosynthesis, not all insurance providers cover 3D mammograms. The Women's Imaging Center at El Camino Health offers discounted cash-pay options for women whose insurance doesn’t cover tomosynthesis.

Tomosynthesis is also available for diagnostic mammograms, which are used to look at your breast if the radiologist noticed a change from your last mammogram or if you're having symptoms such as pain, a lump or nipple discharge. A 3D mammogram allows us to get a sharper picture of the suspicious area.

How Often Should I Have a Mammogram?

The American College of Radiology recommends having annual mammograms starting at age 40. If you have a family history of breast cancer or other risk factors that increase your risk, your health team may recommend additional screening or screening at an earlier age.

When you go in for your next mammogram, you will most likely have a choice. Your doctor can help you decide what’s right for you.

El Camino Health offers complete care for breast health, including comprehensive screening, and free mammograms for uninsured and underinsured women. Learn more about our breast health services.

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