Breast cancer is the second most common cancer and tops the list of cancers in women. The world witnessed over 2 million new cases of breast cancer in 2018. In India, there were 1,62,468 new cases and 87,090 deaths in 2018 due to breast cancer.  As the disease progresses to an advanced stage, the chances of survival decline. More than half of all Indian women with breast cancer are in stage 3 or 4.

Thus, breast cancer needs to be diagnosed at an early stage. Women should undergo screening regularly, especially those at high risk for breast cancer. 3D Mammogram, also known as digital breast tomosynthesis, is one such technique that helps diagnose breast cancer even when a woman experiences no symptoms.

3D Mammogram

A 3D mammogram is an advanced technique for diagnosing breast cancer. Doctors recommend this test for women at high risk of developing breast cancer. They also evaluate the causes of other breast disorders, such as nipple discharge or pain in the breasts through a 3D mammogram.

The 3D Mammogram provides both 3D and standard 2D images. The combination of both these images provides detailed insights. Studies suggest that most cancer cases are detected during screening with this advanced technique. Although there is an increasing trend of prescribing 3D mammograms, not many hospitals in India have this facility.

When does the Doctor Recommend a 3D Mammogram?

The doctor may advise you to undergo a 3D mammogram for screening, diagnostic, and therapeutic purposes.

  • Screening: The doctor may ask you to undergo screening for breast cancer routinely. The frequency depends on your risk for developing the disease. The screening through a mammogram helps diagnose the disease even when a patient is asymptomatic.
  • Diagnostic: The doctor may also use the 3D Mammogram for diagnostic purposes. If a woman feels a lump in her breast during self-assessment, she may undergo a 3D mammogram for further evaluation.
  • Therapeutic: 3D mammograms may also be used to evaluate the efficacy of breast cancer treatment. The test helps doctors assess if the cancer tissues are shrinking with the current treatment or the patient requires an alternate treatment strategy.

Risk Factors Associated with 3D Mammogram

There are certain risk factors associated with a 3D mammogram. Some of them are:

  • Radiation exposure: The 3D Mammogram provides detailed breast images with the help of X-rays. Radiation exposure carries its own inherent risk. However, the exposure to radiation in 3D mammograms is less than standard 2D mammograms.
  • Missing tumors: Sometimes, a 3D mammogram may not be able to detect undetectable tumors. It may be due to the small size of a tumor or dense breasts.
  • False-positive results: In some cases, the abnormality identified by a 3D mammogram may be a benign tumor. The patient may unnecessarily go through anxiety and discomfort during further tests, such as a biopsy.

Preparing for 3D Mammogram

You should follow all the instructions of your doctor while preparing for a mammogram. Some of the considerations when preparing for a mammogram are:

  • A 3D mammogram is an advanced diagnostic method and is not available at all testing facilities. Ask your doctor about the labs equipped to conduct this test.
  • Schedule your appointment for a 3D mammogram when your breasts are least tender. Avoid undergoing this process one week before and during the week of your menstrual period.
  • Do not wear powder or perfume while going for a 3D mammogram. It may result in white spots on a mammogram that may affect the inference.
  • If you have already had a prior mammogram, do not forget to take it with you for comparison.
  • Please note that you need to undress from the top for 3D mammograms. Wear a suitable dress such as a top with pants or skirts rather than a full, long dress.

What to Expect from a 3D Mammogram?

The radiologist may ask you to remove any jewelry from your neck. The technician advises you to stand in front of the mammogram machine and adjust the plates to a suitable height. You will be asked to stand in a manner that provides a clear view of your breast. The plastic plate of the mammogram machine creates pressure on your breast. It allows a full view of the breast tissue. You may feel a little pain and some discomfort during the procedure.

The mammogram machine takes the images of your breast from various angles. The radiologist may also recommend you to hold your breath to avoid minimum interference. The technician then repeats the procedure for the other breast.

Results of 3D Mammogram

The machine creates a 3D mammogram of the breasts by combining all the images. The radiologist may analyze it in parts or as a whole. The machine also forms a 2D standard mammogram. If the radiologist finds abnormalities in a 3D mammogram, he may analyze the 2D standard Mammogram or compare it with the previous images. The radiologist may advise you to undergo additional tests if he is still unsure about the abnormality. The tests may include an MRI, an ultrasound, and a biopsy.

When to see a doctor

You should book an appointment with your doctor if:

  • You feel a lump on the breast or armpit.
  • You have swelling or thickening on the breast.
  • You experience nipple discharge which is not milk.
  • You have a change in breast size and shape.
  • You have flaky skin or redness on the breasts.

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A 3D mammogram is a modern imaging technique that can detect breast cancer in its early stages. It has screening, diagnostic, and therapeutic applications. It is better than standard 2D mammograms in terms of safety and accuracy. The risks of 3D mammograms include false tumor detection, failure to detect a tumor, and radiation exposure.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the risk factors for breast cancer?

Several factors increase the risk of developing breast cancer. These are:

  • Advanced age
  • Genetic mutations
  • History of breast cancer
  • Early menstrual initiation and late menopause
  • Physically inactive
  • Dense breasts with more connective tissue and less fatty tissues
  • Obesity
  • When a woman’s first pregnancy is after 30 and avoiding breastfeeding
  • Hormone replacement therapy during menopause
  • Radiation therapy in the chest or breast for treating other cancer

Would I feel any pain while undergoing a 3D mammogram?

During a mammogram, the plates squeeze your breasts. It may cause a little discomfort. However, squeezing is necessary to minimize radiation exposure. The extent of pain and discomfort also depends on the radiologist performing the procedure.

How much time does it take to complete a mammogram?

The time required to complete 3D mammograms varies. A standard mammogram takes around 10-15 minutes. However, it may take about 30 minutes to obtain clear images if you have a breast implant.

Can I prevent breast cancer?

There is no way to prevent breast cancer. However, you can reduce your risk of developing the disease through the following measures:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Exercise regularly
  • Limit the consumption of alcohol
  • Undergo preventive surgery if you have BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 gene mutation or a family history of breast cancer.

What is the difference between a 2D mammogram and a 3D mammogram?

A 3D mammogram is a more advanced procedure than a 2D mammogram. 3D mammograms can detect cancer more accurately than a 2D mammogram because of the detailed images the machine takes. Also, the rate of asking a patient to undergo a mammogram again is lower with 3D. After 3D mammograms, fewer women need to undergo biopsy.

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