Mammography is an invaluable early detection tool for breast cancer


An estimated one in every eight women will develop breast cancer sometime in her life. Breast cancer is the second highest cause of cancer death in women, sec­ond only to lung cancer.

Mammography is an invaluable early detection tool for breast cancer. A baseline mammogram is recommended for women ages 35 to 39. Women 40 and older should have a mammogram every year.

At OB/GYN Associates of Alabama, we want to make your mammogram as comfortable as possible, both physically and mentally. We offer a highly experienced technician, who provides a thorough 3D screening and the latest educational information on breast care.

The 3D mammogram process

A 3D photo of breasts is possible via a A 3D mammogram. Also known as breast tomosynthesis, this particular procedure uses imaging with various X-rays to test breast tissue.

This imaging test of the breast is useful to look for breast cancer in women who’ve never had any breast cancer symptoms. For women who suffer from nipple discharge, breast mass pain, or any other breast problem, a 3D mammogram can help determine the cause of these issues.

As of late, scientific research shows the efficacy of detecting breast cancer through the combination of 3D mammograms and 2D mammograms. Studies have also shown that this method cuts down on the need for additional breast imaging. However, researchers conclude that before we can determine whether 3D breast imaging is more effective than the standard version, more research is necessary.

While the 3D option in increasing in popularity, it’s not offered in all hospitals and clinics just yet. 

Why get a 3D mammogram?

If you have no breast cancer symptoms but still want to get checked, a 3D mammogram is a good idea for you. It screens—not only for breast cancer—but also underlying problems like lumps or thickening of breast tissues. 

When you get a 3D mammogram to screen for breast cancer, you’ll receive both the standard 2D imaging procedure, as well as the 3D one because both tests are useful to find breast cancer precursors, and other breast abnormalities.

When you use a 2D mammogram and a 3D mammogram in tandem you can:

  • Decrease your need for additional screenings. After you’ve had an abnormal 2D screening, doctors typically refer you on for more imaging tests. This can lead to stress, as well as more medical fees. But, when you get the standard 2D mammogram and 3D mammogram done together, chances are, you won’t need follow-up screenings.
  • Discover more cancerous cells. Research shows that doctors detect more cancers when combining the 2D and 3D imaging tests. In fact, studies say that the numbers increase by 1 more cancer detection per 1,000 women tested by following this method.
  • For women with thicker breast tissue, there’s increased detection. The 3D mammogram is more effective for women with thicker breast tissue than the norm because it can see further into tissues than the standard 2D imaging.

    Milk glands and ducts, fatty breast tissue, and dense breast tissue—these are all the stuff of breast tissue. Women who have dense breasts simply have more dense breast tissue, which can be examined much better by 3D imaging.

More studies are needed to prove that 3D mammograms decrease a woman’s risk of getting fatal breast cancer when compared to standard mammograms. As such, most medical providers don’t mention the importance of getting both 3D mammograms and 2D mammograms. It’s up to a woman to educate herself at this point in time. 

Risks for breast cancer

Every medical screening involves certain risk factors. The ones for a 3D mammogram are as follows:

  • Radiation exposure. We’re talking low levels of radiation with any kind of mammogram because technicians use X-rays to take pictures of a woman’s breasts. It’s important for a woman to know this because a 3D mammogram involves slightly higher levels of radiation exposure than standard imaging simply because the 3D version combines 3D technology with 2D technology. There are newer 3D mammogram imaging machines which are able to take 3D and 2D pictures simultaneously, which is believed to limit radiation exposure.
  • 3D mammograms may detect something else entirely. It’s certainly possible that by having a 3D mammogram done, your doctor finds something abnormal. You’ll then need further testing, which may find that your abnormality was benign all along. This is called a false-positive. With a false-positive result, you’re likely to suffer unnecessary anxiety, which is never fun and might lower your quality of life as you wait for the results to come in.
  • Not all forms of cancer are found. Sometimes, a 3D mammogram fails to detect a certain cancer area, especially if the area is minute, or if the area is in an obscure place.

Preparing for your 3D mammogram

You’ll want to do the following as prep for a 3D mammogram:

  • Choose carefully where you’d like to have your 3D mammogram done. While this kind of mammogram is becoming increasingly more popular, it’s still not offered everywhere. If this is a procedure you think you’d like, inquire with our front desk and schedule an appointment.
  • Make sure insurance covers the procedure. Your particular insurance may not cover a 3D mammogram. Make sure to check with the provider to see what you might need to pay out of pocket. Do this before the procedure so that you’ll not have any unwanted or costly surprises. It’s entirely possible that you’ll have to pay for the 3D portion of the imaging, while your insurance covers the standard imaging test.
  • Get the 3D mammogram done when your breasts are tender. Chances are, your breasts are more tender during PMS. Schedule your 3D mammogram during this time for better results.
  • Bring any mammogram images you’ve already had done to your appointment. You might be visiting a new medical facility for your 3D mammogram. If this is the case, bring mammogram images you might have from the past so that your new doctor can compare new and old images.
  • Refrain from putting on deodorant before having a mammogram. The metallic particles that lurk within various antiperspirants, deodorants, lotions, and perfumes interfere with imaging results. Don’t put anything topical on your bosoms or underarms before a mammogram. 

What to expect before your 3D mammogram

Once you arrive at our offices, you’ll need to prepare. This simply means removing jewelry and clothing from the torso. You’ll wear a gown over your torso during the actual procedure. You’ll probably want to wear a shirt and jeans for easier undressing.

During the imaging test, expect to stand directly in front of the imaging machine. Your technician will then put one breast on the platform of the x-ray machine. You’ll have your head positioned, as well as your torso and arms. This positioning is only to ensure a clear view of the breast being examined.

A plastic plate presses the breast up against the imaging platform. You’ll feel pressure on the breast, which spreads the tissue out. Some women feel pain or discomfort during this process. Be sure to let the technician know when enough’s enough.

The 3D X-ray machine moves from side to side, directly above you as it takes images of the breast. You’ll want to stand completely still during this time, and you may even want to hold your breath if it helps.

Releasing pressure from the breast, the x-ray machine repositions for further imaging. Once again, the breast is pressed up against the x-ray platform by the plastic plate. More pictures ensue. Once all this is done, the exact same procedure occurs with the opposite breast.

How results are collected

A 3-D X-ray machine collects images of the breasts, which are then computer synthesized to create a 3D image. The 3D images are then examined to see every detail. 2D images are also created for additional screening.

A radiologist who is a specialist in this area, examines all pictures. He or she is doing so to find abnormalities in tissue that could point to breast cancer. If he or she thinks anything at all looks unusual, your standard mammogram, as well as any images you’ve had done in the past are scrutinized. After all the information is taken into account, the specialist determines whether or not any additional tests are necessary. These can come in the form of MRI’s, ultrasounds, or biopsies. Biopsies are taken to test suspicious cells in a lab. This is called pathology testing.

If you have more questions about 3D mammography please feel free to call us or tap the button below to set up an appointment with our friendly staff.

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OB/GYN Associates of Alabama Locations

OB/GYN Associates of Alabama now has three locations across Birmingham to serve you

800 St. Vincent’s Drive North Tower,
Suite 600 Birmingham, AL 35205
(205) 271-1600

7191 Cahaba Valley Road, Suite 206
Hoover, AL 35242
(205) 271-1600


2217 Decatur Highway, Suite 200 
Gardendale, AL 35071
(205) 271-1600

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