My First 3D Mammogram – I Have “Sunshine Breasts”

3d-mammographyYesterday I had my first 3D mammogram. The technologist said I have “sunshine breasts”–not a cloud in the imaged field.

I’m one of the lucky ones.

See the updated post on December 9, 2016: Update: My First 3D Mammogram – And an Important Note about Breast Density

On December 5, 2016, I went for my routine annual mammogram and was surprised to learn that I would be imaged in multiple dimensions: 2D and 3D.

What is a 3D mammogram? Also called digital tomosynthesis, the procedure is much like a routine screening mammogram except that it now consists of two images taken in each position required for each breast:  (1) the craniocaudal (CC) view, or full frontal position in which you face the machine directly, and (2) the mediolateral oblique (MLO) view, or sideways position in which your shoulder is turned toward the machine to capture the lymph node area. The first image is 2D, and the second is 3D, which scans the breast tissue in layers to provide a finer level of detail than is possible with 2D images. (Read more about the mammography and tomosynthesis techniques.)

You do need to be compressed for some seconds longer than for a regular 2D mammogram. Is it uncomfortable? Yes. But a couple of minutes of discomfort is nothing compared with early detection of breast cancer—which may save your life or reduce your course of treatment. And 3D mammography offers significant advantages: fewer false readings, fewer callbacks to check questionable results, and more detailed imaging to detect problems missed by 2D mammography.

The breast radiology center asked me to sign a form promising to pay the co-pay of $65 for 3D mammography in the event that my insurance doesn’t cover it—I have no co-pay for regular 2D mammograms. I asked whether 3D mammography was now routine: the answer was “yes.” Insurance is just catching up to this new reality. Medicare/Medicaid and providers under the Affordable Care Act cover 3D mammography, but private insurers may or may not. This is likely to change in the near future as 3D mammography becomes standard.

After the technologist looked at the images, she said I have “sunshine breasts”—no clouds were seen in my imaged fields. This makes me one of the lucky ones.

breast-cancer-silhouette_flipped_pinkIn Diane’s Story – Breast Cancer, Part 2, I described the tests my friend had in August 2015, when she first felt her breast lump: 2D mammography and ultrasound, both of which missed her lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS) and invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC), which is a relatively uncommon form of the disease compared with ductal carcinoma. At that time, her insurance provider denied coverage for 3D mammography. A year later, Diane most likely would have had a 3D mammogram as a matter of course. And perhaps her cancer would have been diagnosed earlier, although no one can say for sure because of her breast architecture and type of cancer.

Diane’s breast cancer was finally detected with an MRI and a biopsy—eight months after she first felt the breast lump that she was initially told was a cyst. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center has developed separate breast cancer screening guidelines: one for women at average risk and one for women at increased risk.

See Breast Cancer – Diane’s Story & More for more important information about diagnosis and treatment.

A week from today, I will be going for my three-year uterine (endometrial) cancer checkup—on December 13, the actual anniversary of my hysterectomy. Note that uterine and breast cancer have some of the same risk factors. See more here:

Uterine (Endometrial) Cancer Risk Factors

Breast Cancer Risk Factors

Resources for Coping with Breast Cancer

Get It Checked!

Test Your Mammo IQ: Take the Quiz


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