Three-Dimensional (3-D) Mammography
Three-dimensional mammography, also known as digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT), is a type of digital mammography in which x-ray machines are used to take pictures of thin “slices” of the breast from different angles and computer software is used to reconstruct an image. This process is similar to how a computed tomography (CT) scanner produces images of structures inside of the body. 3-D mammography uses very low dose x-rays, but, because it is generally performed at the same time as standard two-dimensional (2-D) digital mammography, the radiation dose is higher than that of standard mammography.
Common Uses of the Procedure
3-D mammography is used to detect early breast cancer in women experiencing no symptoms. This method of screening has been shown to be more accurate for women of all breast densities–especially those who have dense breast tissue.
Digital breast tomosynthesis may also be used to perform diagnostic mammography to evaluate women experiencing symptoms such as a lump, pain, skin dimpling, or nipple discharge. It is also sometimes used after a screening mammogram if an area of concern was detected.
Women’s Imaging Locations
What to Expect
During a breast tomosynthesis exam, a specially qualified radiologic technologist will position your breast in the mammography unit. Your breast will be placed on a special platform and gradually compressed with a clear plastic paddle. This compression of the breast is necessary during this method of imaging in order to:
- Even out the thickness of the breast for better visualization
- Spread out the tissue in a manner that makes it harder for abnormalities to hide
- Make the breast tissue thin enough only a lower dose of radiation is needed
- Keep the breast still so clear pictures can be taken
For some patients, breast compression can be uncomfortable. This is why it’s a good idea to avoid scheduling your screening mammogram close to your menstrual cycle when breasts can be especially tender.
It is important that you remain very still while the x-ray tube moves around the breast capturing images. Moving increases the chances of blurry images.
The radiologist may ask you to wait for a short while after the examination until it is determined that no additional images are needed. In most cases, a 3-D mammogram only lasts about 30 minutes.