If you have dense breast tissue, you may already know that additional diagnostic measures are recommended to thoroughly assess your breast health. The most recent advancement in breast examination technology is breast tomosynthesis or 3D Mammography. Using this technology, doctors can better detect tumors in women with dense breast tissue.
About one-third of the population has dense breast composition. Breast density is divided into four categories from (1) entirely fat - very little density; (2) scattered fibroglandular densities - minimally dense; (3) heterogeneously or moderately dense; and (4) extremely dense. Women in the latter two categories are identified as having dense breasts. With regulations enacted in February 2014, mammogram providers must tell women their category of breast density.
While traditional 2D mammography is excellent for screening women with low breast density, when breasts are moderately to extremely dense the breast tissue can hide small tumors and prevent them from being detected by feel or with a traditional 2D mammogram. Increased breast tissue density is the only major risk factor for breast cancer that is associated with a reduced accuracy breast examination and mammography. As a result, women with dense breasts are not only at higher risk for developing the disease, but routine breast testing may not afford them the advantage of early detection.
One tool that has helped supplement the 2D mammogram for women with dense breast is the whole breast ultrasound. Now 3D mammography provides an even more sensitive tool in detecting breast cancer in these patients essentially putting all women on a level playing field in terms of the sensitivity of the mammogram exam.
Some advantages of 3D Mammography for women with dense breast tissue include:
Less need for recalls to look at "suspicious" areas
Fewer invasive tests
Potential for earlier detection and treatment of breast cancer
A 3D mammogram is performed in the same manner as a traditional mammogram, in fact the equipment and exam room layout remain the same. The difference rests in the camera angles and number of images taken as the breast is scanned-15 mini pictures in just 4 seconds. The images create a 3D rendering of the breast that can be examined in 1 millimeter layers enabling small tumors to be pinpointed. Radiation exposure is well below the American College of Radiation guidelines, and because the need for additional imaging may be minimized, exposure may decrease over a lifetime.
If you are over the age of 40, you are encouraged to have a yearly mammogram. Talk to your doctor about breast density, family history and any other factors that may put you at a higher risk for developing breast cancer. If you have moderately to extremely dense breast tissue, ask to be referred for a 3D mammogram.
Dr. Hanae Bahr is a radiologist specializing in breast imaging at Susquehanna Health's Kathryn Candor Lundy Breast Health Center at Divine Providence Hospital.