Although the 3D mammogram has been available for over a decade, most women get a 2D mammogram. A 3D mammogram gives a better picture of the breast and is used as a tool to detect abnormalities that may be indicative of breast cancer. 

Mammograms can be used for screening or diagnostic purposes. Some insurance companies cover annual 3D screening mammograms under your medical plan. For example, Medicare covers a 3D mammogram screening annually under Part B coverage at no additional cost. 

Diagnostic mammograms can also be covered if they are medically necessary. Screening and diagnostic mammograms are covered differently, so you should understand your coverage. Medicare supplemental plans may help cover diagnostic mammograms. 

If you’re interested in trying 3D, we’ll explain the process of getting a 3D mammogram. We will also discuss the differences from 2D, including side effects, diagnoses, and costs.

What is a 3D mammogram? 

Mammograms are an essential preventive procedure for the early detection of breast cancer. The current recommendations are that women ages 40 and up should have annual screening mammograms. You should have one earlier than 40 if recommended by your physician.       

A 3D mammogram uses multiple X-rays to create a 3D image of the breast. It can be used for screening for abnormalities or to detect issues causing breast pain. This 3D image is improved upon a 2D image of the breast because a 2D image will be flat whereas the 3D image will be three-dimensional. 

3D mammograms may have a higher detection rate than standard 2D mammograms. Some 3D mammogram machines can do 2D and 3D imaging at the same time. This will give an even better overall picture of the breast for the radiologist to interpret. 

3D Mammogram Process

It’s important to follow instructions before the procedure, such as avoiding deodorant before your mammogram. You may also want to wear a top that can be easily removed because you will be removing your top, bra, and any jewelry. 

If you have breast implants, the mammogram technician needs to know. It can be more challenging to see the breast tissue due to the implants. They may recommend a 3D mammogram to get a better image of the breast tissue. 

You will be asked to undress from the waist up, remove jewelry, and put on a gown. The mammogram technician doing the mammogram will go over any instructions and give you an overview of the procedure. 

Next, you will stand next to the machine and the technician will guide you in position. They will place one breast at a time on the compression plate of the device. The technician will ask you to stay in position while the images are being taken. 

The procedure is over quickly. The mammogram machine can take numerous images in less than 10 seconds. The entire process should take less than 30 minutes. 

After the procedure, a radiologist will review your images. They may recommend a follow-up appointment for any additional testing or imaging. There should be no side effects after the procedure and any slight discomfort should go away quickly. 

3D Mammogram Pros and Cons

There are pros and cons when it comes to 3D mammograms. One pro of a 3D mammogram is that it lessens the need for additional testing or imaging. It is also thought that 3D mammograms better detect growths and abnormalities in breast tissue. 

The risks of a 3D mammogram are low. As with any X-ray, there is a low amount of radiation exposure. A 3D mammogram may have a slightly higher dose of radiation than a 2D mammogram, but the amounts are still within safe levels. 

A 3D mammogram may produce a false-positive result. This happens when an abnormality is present but it is not breast cancer. This can also occur with a 2D mammogram and can lead to stress, worry, and anxiety while waiting for additional testing. 

No test is perfect just like a 2D mammogram, a 3D mammogram could miss an abnormality. Screenings are helpful in early detection, but some areas of the breast may be difficult to capture with imagery. Diagnostic tests are used as a follow-up to screenings if there may be indicators leading to a breast cancer diagnosis

You might feel slight discomfort during a mammogram. You shouldn’t feel any pain, but if you do you should let the technician know about the pain. Women’s breasts are less tender during certain times of the month just after the menstrual cycle. 

If insurance does not cover this procedure, one con is the cost of a 3D mammogram. The cost without insurance varies by state and is between $40 to $800. If you are unsure, ask the medical facility for more information about the cost. 

Preventing Breast Cancer

While mammograms are an important screening tool to detect breast cancer, living a healthy lifestyle is one of the best things you can do to lower your risk for breast cancer. Some risk factors for breast cancer are things we can’t control, like genetics and a family history of breast cancer. We can focus on the controllable risk factors and live a healthy lifestyle to lower our risk.

Alcohol and smoking are linked to a higher risk of breast cancer. Alcohol consumption can raise estrogen levels in the body, so avoiding alcohol is best to lower your risk. Smoking raises breast cancer risk, especially if you have smoked for over 10 years. Quitting smoking is one of the best ways to prevent having breast cancer. 

Regular exercise has many health benefits and has been shown to lower the risk of breast cancer. Some physical activity is better than none, but more physical activity is better than some. Running, walking, dancing, resistance training, fitness classes, and yoga are all great ways to stay active. 

Eating a healthy diet is also helpful in lowering the risk for some types of cancer. Filling your plate with colorful fruits and vegetables gives you a variety of nutrients, like fiber and antioxidants. Antioxidants help protect your cells from oxidative damage, which is linked to many chronic diseases. 

It is a myth that eating soy products causes breast cancer. Soy has isoflavones, which are plant estrogen. The levels of plant estrogens in these foods are low, so there is no harm in eating tofu, tempeh, or soy milk. 

Processed or supplemental soy products have higher levels of isoflavones and may be linked to an increased risk in those who are at higher risk of breast cancer. If your healthcare provider has recommended that you moderate your processed soy consumption, then you should follow their recommendation. 

Stress in life is inevitable but it is also essential to manage stress. Stress management techniques include journaling, exercise, talking to friends, spiritual practices, or counseling. 

The Bottom Line

Many healthcare providers recommend living a healthy lifestyle and annual 3D mammogram screening for their patients. This will help decrease the risk of developing breast cancer as well as early detection of any breast abnormalities or growths that are linked to breast cancer. 

Melissa Morris writes and researches for the insurance comparison site, She is a university professor of health sciences and human performance. 

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