Weighing the pros and cons of 3D mammograms

9:23 PM, Oct 10, 2012   |    comments
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TAMPA, Florida -- 3D mammography is now available in the Bay area, offering women more advanced imaging to detect breast cancer.

St. Joseph's Women's Hospital just debuted the screening at the Shimberg Breast Center, giving radiologists additional views of breast tissue to look for any signs of the disease.

Like any new technology, the 3D mammogram has pros and cons. One of the benefits of the new imagery is it's easier for doctors to rule out any abnormalities, so there are fewer call backs for secondary screenings than with the standard exam.

This test could prove beneficial for women with high density breast tissue. However, the test also delivers double the amount of radiation of a standard exam. Still, some say if you start with the 3D mammorgram, you'll be exposed to less radiation over all, since you're not as likely to be called back for additional screening.

"There's a slight increase in radiation relative to the digital mammogram, but there's no real increase over the filmscreen mammogram that we've done for the last 30 years. So we're really just at that level for the screening mammogram," St. Joseph's radiologist Dr. Tracy Halme said.

Halme said the important thing to note is the decrease in callbacks for additional tests. "About 30 percent fewer patients get called back, and so the overall radiation dose may actually be much less when you start with this 3D tomosynthesis screening mammogram," Halme said.

She also pointed out just being on this planet, we are exposed to radiation from the sun.

"When we take a plane flight from California to New York, we're getting radiation exposure. And you're actually getting about the same amount as exposure as you would get with the 3D tomosynthesis mammogram. There's no big huge radiation difference than just taking an airplane flight," Dr. Halme said.

Here are some other things to consider. The 3D mammo takes about 30 seconds longer to do. You can also expect this technology to cost slightly more, and you'll want to check with insurance to see if it's covered. If you feel that it's right for you, you'll want to make that decision before your next mammo as insurance will only cover one each year.

Dr. Halme tells 10 News that a woman's breasts are put in the same two positions as a standard mammogram. The only difference is the attachment to the mammogram machine. That swinging arm takes the additional images. Patients that may have been tender in the past or felt that their mammograms were a little bit painful have been distracted by the movement of the machine over the breasts.

Karla Moore was one of the first to try the new mammography option. She had a 3D sonogram when she was pregnant with her daughter, so she thought why not get a 3D mammogram. Moore said her family history of breast cancer made it easy to choose the 3D mammogram.

"My aunt is an 11-year cancer survivor, and she's telling everyone in the family 'Make sure you stay up-to-date with your mammograms,' and so the 3D would be excellent. I'm a technology teacher also, so I know that technology helps us do things better, " Moore said.

The hospital is allowing women to try the 3D mammogram at no additional charge through the end of the year. There might be a minimal charge after the first of the year for this imagery, so check with your insurance before your appointment.

You maybe interested in learning more about 3D mammograms from our Gannett partner USA Today.