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BY: Melissa Ebbinghouse B.S. R.T. (R)(M)(CT), Lead Mammography Tech, Southwest Health

Mammography is the process of using low-energy X-rays to examine the breast for screening and diagnosis. The goal of mammography is early detection of breast cancer. Regular mammograms, as a part of your yearly exam, aid in early detection.

In 2016, breast cancer screening in Southwest Wisconsin took a giant leap forward with the addition of the 3D digital mammography technology offered at Southwest Health. The 3D breast imaging system produces three-dimensional views of breast tissue and helps doctors accurately identify and classify breast tissue structures, in order to enhance breast cancer diagnosis and save lives.

If you haven’t had a 3D mammogram yet, you may have some questions about the test itself, or even some fear about the process. Here are a few things that might answer some questions:

Are 3D Mammograms Safe?

Yes! Radiation exposure to the breast is very low. The radiation dose for a combined 2D/3D mammography exam is well below the acceptable limits defined by the FDA, and is only a fraction of the level of radiation an individual receives annually from the natural background of being outdoors. There is no proof that this low level of radiation has any significant effect on the breasts.

So what is 3D Mammography?

3D Mammography is an advanced type of mammogram that can offer earlier cancer detection, fewer call backs, and greater peace of mind. 3D technology has been shown to detect small breast cancers up to 15 months earlier than traditional technology.

What are the Benefits of 3D Mammography?


  • Earlier detection of small breast cancers that may be hidden during digital mammography
  • Greater accuracy in pinpointing size, shape, and location of abnormalities
  • Fewer unnecessary invasive procedures or additional tests
  • Greater likelihood of detecting multiple breast tumors, which occur in 15% of breast cancer patients
  • Clearer images of dense breast tissue


In addition, 3D mammography offers a marked improvement over 2D mammography in several ways.

  • Studies show it’s a significantly better diagnostic tool for detecting breast cancer, especially for women younger than 50, women with dense breasts, and premenopausal women.
  • 3D images help doctors make accurate diagnoses. Doctors view the images electronicallyon a computer monitor, magnifying them and adjusting brightness and contrast on a high-resolution display. This extra control makes it easier to see subtle differences in breast tissue and to diagnose cancer more accurately.
  • The need to return for additional mammograms is greatly reduced because doctors have the advanced digital tools necessary to study 3D mammograms in such detail.


What can you expect during your 3D Mammogram?


Just like a traditional 2D mammogram, you will stand in front of an x-ray machine, where a technologist will place your breast on a plate. Another plate will flatten the breast, holding it still while the x-ray is being taken. During the 3D part of the exam, an x-ray arm sweeps over the breast, taking multiple images in seconds.

A 3D mammogram only takes a few moments, with minimal discomfort. What you feel will depend on the size of your breasts, and how much they need to be pressed to get a good image.

Are there any tips to prepare for a 3D Mammogram?

  • Try not to schedule a mammogram the week before or during your period. Your breasts maybe tender or swollen at that time.
  • On the day of your mammogram, do not wear deodorant, perfume, or powder. These products can show up as spots on your x-ray.
  • It may be preferable to wear a top with a skirt or pants, instead of a dress. You will need to undress from the waist up.


When do doctors recommend a 3D mammogram?


The American Society of Breast Surgeons suggests that females over 40 years of age should get annual mammograms to check for signs of breast cancer. They also recommend 3D mammograms because 3D imaging provides more information of the underlying breast tissue, which can help identify potential growths early on.


Breast cancer affects about 1 in 8 females, according to the American Cancer Society. Southwest Health is proud to be the first facility in Southwest Wisconsin to provide 3D Mammography. Combining self-breast exams, annual exams with your physician or provider, and 3D mammography can aid in early detection. For more information about annual exams and 3D mammography, call the Women’s Center or Platteville Clinic at Southwest Health, visit our website, or simply schedule an appointment!



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