If you’ve gotten a mammogram in the past couple years, chances are it was of the three-dimensional variety—a good thing, because it’s the best technology out there for detecting breast cancer. And you made and kept your appointment, so pat yourself on the back.
But at some point while you were putting on or taking off that oh-so-unflattering hospital gown, maybe you wondered how 3D mammography works and what makes it so much better than the 2D kind, which has been used for decades. We did, too. So we asked the experts at Hancock Health: Lisa Wood, director of diagnostic imaging; and Debbie Muegge, lead mammographer.
They explained that three-dimensional mammography can better detect invasive cancer and reduce false alarms, which are more common when 2D mammograms alone are used. While 2D and 3D mammograms both use X-rays to create detailed images of the breast to detect masses or abnormalities, 3D technology allows for the X-ray to move around the breast, capturing imaging slices that can all be examined. In short, it’s a better picture.
It’s also especially helpful for women with dense breast tissue because that type of tissue is more likely to appear abnormal in 2D mammograms, even when it’s not. The quality of the three-dimensional images helps solve the problem, meaning there are fewer false positives and fewer unwanted callbacks for additional tests.
“Three-dimensional mammography reduces unnecessarily stressful situations for patients and, in many cases, unnecessary costs,” said Wood. “Major insurance plans cover mammograms at 100%. But the callback isn’t usually categorized as preventative, so there are out-of-pocket expenses.”
But the most important result of the improved technology isn’t about money or stress. It’s the fact that three-dimensional mammography is more accurate, thereby reducing the risk of fatal breast cancer.
“It’s helping us detect it earlier, which in the long run, will save your life,” Muegge said. “The earlier we catch it, the better our chances are of successfully treating it.”
The first step is knowing the best time to start getting regular mammograms. A good guideline is that women should be screened annually beginning at age 45, whether they have a family history of breast cancer or not—earlier if they do.
And if all this talk about good timing and the newest technology has you ready to schedule your mammogram, here’s a checklist of tips from Wood and Muegge to help you prepare.
Before Your Mammogram
- Make sure you’re getting a 3D mammogram.
- Schedule your mammogram before your first COVID-19 vaccine or at least four weeks after your final shot. The vaccine can temporarily cause swollen lymph nodes, which can confuse the mammogram evaluation process.
- Make sure your mammogram history is available to your care providers.
- Be prepared to detail your family’s history of breast cancer.
- Know that Hancock Health offers 3D mammograms at four convenient locations: Hancock Regional Hospital and Parkway Imaging Center, both in Greenfield, Healthway Park in New Palestine, and Hancock Wellness Center in McCordsville.