Digital Breast Tomosynthesis - 3D Mammography

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Digital Breast Tomosynthesis (also known as 3D Mammography) uses x-rays and three-dimensional technology to diagnose breast abnormalities and help physicians treat breast disease.  3D mammography produces multiple images of the entire breast creating a detailed, layer-by-layer view of the breast.  The process is performed at the same time as a normal mammogram, on the same scanner, with no noticeable differences in the experience or time expended for the patient.

Need to Know

Nice to Know
  • The American College of Radiology, Society of Breast Imaging, National Cancer Institute, American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network all have guidelines recommending annual screening beginning at age 40
  • Discuss with your health care provider any lump or thickening of the breast, a dimpling or puckering of your breast, scaling of the skin surrounding the nipple, nipple discharge or any other breast change with your health care provider prior to scheduling this imaging
  • If you had breast imaging done elsewhere in the last five years it is very important that we obtain the images from those exams to compare. By comparing with the older studies the radiologist can determine if an abnormality in your breast is new, has already been investigated by the previous imaging facility or is a normal for your breast.
  • The best time to schedule your mammogram is when your breasts are not tender which is typically the week after your period.
  • When scheduling your exam, inform the customer care representative if you have breast implants or a personal history of breast cancer to allow sufficient time for imaging period and let us know if you think you are pregnant or are breast feeding.
  • A radiologic (x-ray) technologist who received special training and certification in Mammography will perform your imaging.
  • A radiologist (physician) who specializes in breast imaging will compare and assess your images and send a report to your health care provider and any other provider(s) you identify.
  • You will receive a letter in approximately 5 to 7 days informing you of the results of your imaging, along with your personal breast composition (breast density) and information about supplemental screening imaging for patients with dense breasts.
  • If the recommendation is made for additional imaging we will contact you and assist with scheduling the exam(s).


  • Contact your health care provider if you do feel a lump, even if you have had a recent mammogram.  Eight out of ten breast lumps felt by women are not cancer.
  • Adequate compression of the breast tissue is necessary to prevent motion on the images, to separate the tissue and structures in the breast for better visibility and to reduce the patient’s dose of radiation.
  • Although mammograms are not painful, there are some things you can do to lessen any discomfort you may experience during compression, such as avoiding scheduling your mammogram during the week before you menstruate or speaking with your health care provider about taking acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motion) an hour before the exam. If you experience excessive discomfort during your imaging inform your technologist so we can work together to get the best images and ensure your comfort.
  • Jefferson Radiology mammography facilities are accredited by the American College of Radiology, certified by the FDA and are designated as BICOE (Breast Imaging Center of Excellence) facilities. We voluntarily participate in the National Mammography Database, a quality initiative program for breast centers, which allows us to track and measure our quality performance.



The tomosynthesis images takes just a few seconds longer than a 2D exam with only a slight increase in the dosage of radiation. This is still far below the FDA-regulated limit for standard mammography.


Why is This Exam Done?

Screening Mammography

Screening mammography can detect breast changes which could signify very early breast cancer. The radiologist will look for subtle changes in your breasts from previous imaging exams. Mammograms can show changes in the breast up to two years before a patient or physician can feel them. Research has shown that annual mammograms lead to early detection of breast cancers when they are most curable and the best conservation therapies are available.

Diagnostic Mammography

Diagnostic mammography is a problem-solving mammogram used to evaluate a patient with new signs or symptoms such as a lump, discharge, focal pain or to further access an abnormality seen on a screening mammogram, or for follow up imaging of a prior mammography finding. The images are interpreted (read) by a radiologist at the time of the exam and the mammographer will do additional imaging if needed. You will be advised of the results before leaving the facility.

What Will Happen During the Exam?

You will be asked to remove all clothing above your waist and change into a gown. The staff will ask questions about your personal and family breast history, hormone usage and any previous breast surgery. This is important to identify any risks of breast cancer. A mammographer will position your breast for each image on a flat surface of the mammography unit and gradually compress your breast, working with you to limit any discomfort. You will be asked to hold very still or hold your breath to limit motion on the images. During the 3D imaging, the imaging arm will make a slight arc over the breast, making brief stops to take a series of images. This will take just seconds longer than if taking a 2D image. If you are having a diagnostic mammogram (new or ongoing problem with breast) the radiologist will review the images and direct the technologist if any additional images are needed.

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How Should I Prepare?

  • Do not wear deodorant, talcum powder or lotion under your arms or on your breasts on the day of the exam. Ingredients in these products may show up on the mammogram. You will change into a gown and may be asked to remove jewelry. Wearing a two-piece outfit will make this easier.
  • Always inform the staff if you think you may be pregnant
  • Allow 30 minutes for a screening mammogram and up to a 1 ½ hours for a diagnostic mammogram.
  • If you have a rash, redness or an open wound on or beneath your breasts, you should postpone your routine screening exam until the rash/sore is gone or healed.
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What Should I Bring?

Any previous breast imaging if applicable.

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What Are the Benefits and Risks?

General Mammography Benefits:

  • Annual screening imaging of the breast improves the ability to detect small tumors with better treatment options
  • Micro-calcifications in the breast are best seen on mammograms
  • Mammography increases the detection of small abnormal tissue growths representing early tumors that have not spread to the surrounding breast tissue

Tomosynthesis vs. Conventional Digital Mammography Benefits

  • Reduced callback - Improves ability to distinguish normal from abnormal breast tissue which will reduce the need for additional imaging.
  • Fewer unnecessary biopsies
  • Clearer images of dense breast tissue
  • Greater Accuracy
  • Improved Sensitivity
  • Improved breast cancer detection rates

Risks you should be aware of:

  • Call backs are more common for the first (baseline) mammogram as there is no previous mammogram to compare
  • Abnormal findings may require a follow-up short-term mammogram or a breast biopsy
  • Only 2-4 of every 1000screening mammograms lead to a diagnosis of breast cancer
  • Most biopsies have normal results and confirm that no cancer was present
  • Women with dense breast tissue may benefit from supplemental screening imaging such as Screening Breast Ultrasound or Breast MRI