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3D Breast ImagingHow 3D Breast Mammography Works

3D breast mammography (also known as breast tomosynthesis) combines multiple breast X-rays to create a three-dimensional picture of the breast. 3D mammogram machines can quickly create 3D images in one-millimeter slices, as well as standard 2D mammogram images.

3D renderings of breast tissue provide greater visibility for the radiologist and more details about the breast tissue.

Hear as Dr. Julie Taber, Raleigh Radiology, shares information about the difference between a 2D and 3D mammogram.

Why It Is Used

3D mammography is the most modern screening and diagnostic tool available for early detection of breast cancer. It is used to look for breast cancer in people with no signs or symptoms of the disease. It can also be used to investigate the cause of breast problems, such as a breast mass, pain and nipple discharge.

Read why yearly screening mammograms are a vital piece of early detection in the fight against breast cancer.


What to Expect

Before the test

To prepare for your 3D mammogram, be sure to:

  • Check with your insurance provider before your test so that you'll know what costs to expect
  • Schedule the test for a time when your breasts are least likely to be tender. If you haven't gone through menopause, that's usually during the week after your menstrual period
  • Bring any prior mammogram images if you have not previously had a 3D mammogram at WakeMed
  • Don't use deodorant, antiperspirants, powders, lotions, creams or perfumes under your arms or on your breasts before your mammogram
  • Wear a two-piece outfit to your appointment

During the test

You will be given a gown and asked to remove your clothing and jewelry from the waist up.

For the test itself, you will stand in front of an X-ray machine equipped to perform 3D mammograms. The technologist will place one breast on a platform and adjust the platform to match your height. The technologist will help you position your head, arms and torso to allow an unobstructed view of your breast.

Your breast is gradually pressed against the platform by a clear plastic plate. Pressure is applied for a few seconds to spread out the breast tissue. The pressure is not harmful, but you may find it uncomfortable or even painful. If you have too much discomfort, tell the technologist.

Next, the 3D mammogram machine sweeps in an arc over your breast, taking multiple images in a matter of seconds. You may be asked to hold your breath for these few seconds to minimize movement. The 2D and 3D portions of the exam occur simultaneously.

The machine will then be repositioned to take a similar image of your breast from the side. The process is repeated on the other breast. The images collected during a 3D mammogram are synthesized by a computer to form a 3D picture of your breast. The 3D mammogram images can be analyzed as a whole or examined in small fractions for greater detail.

The Benefits of 3D Breast Mammography

Studies show that combining 3D mammograms with standard mammograms have several advantages, including:

  • Reducing the need for follow-up imaging
  • Detecting slightly more cancers than a standard mammogram alone
  • Improving breast cancer detection in dense breast tissue
  • Reducing the rate of false positive readings and the need for a biopsy in some situations

Hear from Dana Knapp, CRA, R.T. (R)(M) as she discusses the importance of monthly breast self-exams.



3D breast imaging is offered at the following WakeMed Outpatient Imaging Services locations: