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What is Breast Tomosynthesis: Everything You Should Know


Experts recommend that women over 40 get screened annually for breast cancer, and that women under 40 with a history of breast cancer in their families also undergo a yearly screening. The prevalence of annual mammography has dramatically increased breast cancer survival rates. In recent years, women have been able to opt for breast tomosynthesis, a more thorough version of mammography screening. Now (in 2020) it is relatively unusual for a woman to have a 2D screening mammogram.

Are you looking for a deeper understanding of the difference between a standard mammogram and a tomo mammo? Want to learn more about what happens during tomosynthesis and how you can best prepare for your procedure? 

This post attempts to answer those questions and others so that you’ll feel informed and at ease during the procedure. 

Tomosynthesis vs. Standard Mammograms

Since breast cancer is the most common kind of cancer among women, you will want to ensure that you’re being proactive about your breast health. 

While standard 2D digital mammograms were a large advance over film based mammograms to find breast cancer (or to closely follow the progression of previously diagnosed breast cancer) tomosynthesis finds smaller cancers and has taken breast screenings to the next level. 

That’s because, through the use of advanced 3D imaging and lower radiation dosages, a 3D mammogram examines multiple layers of your breast — while a standard mammogram can only offer a 2D image. 

3D imaging technology also improves screening for women with dense breast tissue, as well as those who wish to prioritize early detection. Women with dense breast tissue may also benefit from ultrasound or MRI screening. 

In a 2D mammogram, the system generates images from both side-to-side and top-to-bottom. Each 2D image provides a view of the entire breast. Unfortunately, this can both camouflage signs of a problem and cause healthy breast tissue to show signs of a problem.  

In contrast, tomosynthesis takes multiple images of the breast across an arc, capturing multiple layers of breast tissue from a variety of angles. The system combines these images to create a total picture of your breast, providing more specific views and reducing the problem of tissue overlap.

As a result, tomosynthesis provides more detailed and specific results, while also reducing the number of false positives for breast cancer when compared to a standard 2D mammogram. 

Cost and Value

Several years ago, the FDA determined 3D mammography has value over 2D. Now, all major insurance plans in NJ pay the modest extra cost of tomography for your annual screening mammogram in full, with no copay or deductible. Please contact your insurance company or the PINK billing office with questions about your actual insurance coverage.

Getting Ready for Your Tomo Mammogram

Now, let’s talk about the best way for you to prepare for a mammo screening with tomosynthesis. The preparation for a 3D mammogram is like the preparation for a 2D mammogram.

As with any kind of medical procedure, you should let your doctor know about any medications you take, whether or not you are pregnant or are trying to get pregnant, and provide information about your family’s history of breast cancer and other health issues. 

Also, be sure to let your mammography technologist know if you’ve had breast implants, as these may impact how they perform your screening. 

Many women avoid scheduling their mammogram just before or during their period, because their breasts can be more sensitive to potential pain at that time. 

If you’ve had a mammogram before at another site, be sure to bring the prior images with you to your appointment. If your prior mammogram was at PINK, we already have your images; please feel free to confirm this.

On the day of your screening, don’t wear any deodorant, lotions, or even perfume, as they can leave marks that may look like calcium deposits and other signs of cancer. 

You’ll be asked to undress from your waist up and given a gown, then taken to the exam room. 

Your breasts are examined one at a time, with plates supporting and compressing the breast. You will see the scanner move in an arc during your screening as it captures multiple images of your breast. Usually, the images are captured in a few seconds per breast.

Mammography generates less radiation than ever before; your radiation dosage is recorded on every image. PINK is proud to note that our Siemens equipment generates a smaller radiation dosage than other manufacturers. We know this because the dosage is recorded on every image. In any case, no radiation will remain in your body after the screening. You may feel slight discomfort in your breasts after the procedure is over, due to the compression that all mammography requires. However, the Siemens equipment PINK uses will automatically determine the optimal compression for the best images, with no unnecessary compression. Like radiation dosage, the actual compression is recorded on every mammogram image. As a result, we see the Siemens equipment PINK uses requires less compression than other manufacturers.

Getting Your Results

We know waiting for the results of a breast cancer screening can be nerve-wracking, and you’d like to get your results as soon as possible. 

PINK can often provide your screening results, including the results of a breast ultrasound if provided, immediately after the procedure. Even if there is a delay, there is no cause for alarm.

After your screening is complete, a radiologist examines the images and looks for the potential signs of a tumor or another issue. PINK will communicate your results directly to you, as well as the primary physician you designate. If PINK identifies areas of concern, we will reach out to you to ensure you understand any concerns and have the opportunity to begin the appropriate treatment.

Make Your PINK Mammogram Appointment

Whether you elect to have a traditional 2D digital mammogram or 3D tomosynthesis, we know you want to have the screening done in an environment where you feel comfortable, respected, and listened to. 

Often, the clinical and impersonal nature of a hospital can make you feel even more intimidated about getting screened for breast cancer. 

At each PINK Breast Center, in Paterson, Flemington, and Woodland Park, we strive to create a relaxed, spa-like environment that is markedly different from most other screening centers and hospitals. We are often able to give you the results the same day as your procedure. 

With over 90,000 breast exams under our belts, PINK has the experience and expertise you can rely on. 

In addition to 2D and 3D breast exams, PINK also offers breast ultrasound, general ultrasound, breast biopsies, and bone density scans.

Get in touch with us today to schedule your appointment, and start taking your breast health seriously. 

Click here to fill out your patient forms online before your appointment. 

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