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The Facts About 2D and 3D Mammograms

Mammograms help women find breast cancer early, often when a tumor is still too tiny to feel and treatment may be easier. These low-dose X-rays are available in two forms: 2D and 3D.

With 3D mammography becoming more widely available, many women aren’t sure what the differences are between the two options. Here are five things to know about the similarities and differences between 2D and 3D mammograms:

Both 2D and 3D mammograms collect images of the breast, but in different ways.

During a 2D mammogram (also called conventional digital mammography), two pictures are typically taken of each breast—one from the side and one from above.

During a 3D mammogram (also known as digital breast tomosynthesis), multiple images are taken of the breast from different angles. A computer combines the images to create a 3D picture of the breast, which may give doctors a clearer view of the breast tissue.

Compression of the breasts is the same for both types of mammograms.

During both 2D and 3D mammograms, your breasts will be placed on a special platform and gradually compressed with a clear paddle. Compression is necessary in order to get the best images.

“With digital breast tomosynthesis or 3D mammograms, it’s a common misconception that your breasts won’t have to be compressed,” said Catherine Tuite, MD, a radiologist who specializes in early diagnosis of breast cancer at Fox Chase Cancer Center. “The experience is almost exactly the same with 2D and 3D. Women are in the same position for each with the same degree of compression.”

3D mammograms may have some advantages over 2D mammograms.

Among their potential benefits, 3D mammograms may:

  • Improve the ability of doctors to accurately diagnose breast cancer.
  • Find small tumors that may have remained hidden on a 2D mammogram.
  • Provide clearer images of abnormalities in dense breasts. Women who have dense breasts—defined as breasts that have a lot of glandular tissue and not a lot of fat—are at slightly higher risk of developing breast cancer.
  • Reduce the number of times women are called back for further testing because of false alarms.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) doesn’t recommend one type of mammogram over the other.

So far, the ACS is neutral about its recommendations regarding 3D mammograms.

“Our overarching philosophy at Fox Chase is that both 2D and 3D mammograms are good screening options,” Tuite said. “No woman should feel like she’s getting a substandard study if she doesn’t have a 3D mammogram. There are pros and cons to both kinds of imaging, and any screening imaging is better than none.”

Where you get your mammogram matters.

While all radiologists are trained to read mammograms, some are more highly trained than others to interpret their results.

The most important part of a mammogram is the radiologist who is interpreting the study,” Tuite said. “Women should get their mammograms interpreted by radiologists who specialize in breast radiology. The more you do something, the better you are at it.”

To schedule a breast screening at Fox Chase, request an appointment online or call 888-369-2427.