3D Mammography FAQ

How does a 3D mammogram work?

During a 3D mammogram, an X-ray arm sweeps in an arc over your breast, taking multiple low dose images. Then, a computer produces a 3D image of your breast tissue in one millimeter slices, providing greater visibility for your radiologist to see breast detail like never before. The radiologist can then scroll through images of your entire breast like pages of a book, for clarity and insight which was previously unavailable. Here's a video to illustrate.


What are the benefits of 3D mammograms?

With conventional digital or 2D mammography, the radiologist can only view all the complexities of breast tissue in one, flat image. Sometimes breast tissue can overlap, giving the illusion of normal breast tissue while looking at an abnormal area, or potentially hiding a small cancer.

By looking at the breast tissue in slices, the radiologist can provide a more accurate reading. Multiple clinical studies show that 3D mammography finds 40% more invasive cancers not seen with conventional mammography. Also, 3D mammography reduces the chance that your doctor will call you back for a "second look" because the breast tissue is viewed more clearly. 

Who can have a 3D mammogram?

3D mammography is approved for all women undergoing a standard mammogram.

However, we respect a woman’s right to choose the breast screening method she wants. If a woman prefers to have a 2D screening mammogram, we support that choice.

What is the difference between a screening and diagnostic mammogram?

A screening mammogram is performed on women without any signs or symptoms of breast cancer, usually as a routine annual exam. Following the results of your screening exam, a radiologist may ask you to come back for another mammogram. This mammogram is called a diagnostic mammogram. A diagnostic mammogram rules out an unclear area or evaluates tissue that may look abnormal. A diagnostic mammogram is also used to evaluate a patient who has a breast concern, such as a lump or other abnormality.

When should I start receiving an annual mammogram?

The American Cancer Society recommends the following breast health procedures:

  • Women aged 40 to 44 years should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms if they wish to do so.  The risks of screening as well as the potential benefits should be considered. If there is a family history of breast cancer, regular mammograms may be advisable even sooner.

  • Women aged 45 to 54 years should get mammograms every year.

  • Women aged 55 years and older should switch to mammograms every 2 years, or have the choice to continue yearly screening.

  • Screening should continue as long as a woman is in good health and is expected to live 10 more years or longer.

  • Ascension Columbia St. Mary’s recommends annual screening mammography for women ages 40-69 and continuing to 70 and over as long as the woman is in good health. 

Is mammography covered by insurance?

Medicare and some commercial insurers cover 3D screening mammography. However, some insurance companies recently changed their policy on 3D screening mammography.  These insurers still allow the procedure, but the 3D portion is now part of your deductible. In other words, the 2D portion is covered, but you may have out-of-pocket expenses with the 3D portion. It’s a good idea to check your plan and talk with your insurance provider before you schedule your screening.

Because the coverage for 3D mammography varies by insurer, and Ascension Columbia St. Mary’s believes it is important to make this service part of our standard of care, you will be responsible for your usual co-insurance/deductibles for covered services.  

Ascension Columbia St. Mary’s and Wisconsin Radiology Specialists radiologists are committed to making your screening mammography with us a positive experience. 

If you have questions, we encourage you to call: 414 326-1800.



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