Introduction to 3D Mammography

Digital breast tomosynthesis, also known as 3D mammography, refers to a relatively new breast imaging technology approved for use in the United States in 2011.

Like conventional mammography, 3D mammography uses X-rays to create visual representations of internal breast tissue for the purpose of identifying tumors, lumps and other abnormalities. However, 3D mammography can produce more detailed images than conventional mammography.

During conventional mammography, two images of each breast are taken: a top-to-bottom view and a side-to-side view. During 3D mammography, numerous images are taken from multiple angles. If the images produced by conventional mammography are thought of as the covers of a book, images produced by 3D mammography can be thought of as the pages.

Radiologists can view each of these images individually, seeing breast tissue in 1-milllimeter ‘slices’ rather than just from the top and from the side.

Research suggests that 3D mammography can more accurately detect breast cancer with fewer false-positive and false-negative results than conventional mammography. This can be especially beneficial in certain women, such as those with dense breast tissue.

How 3D Mammography Exams are Performed


Women preparing for a 3D mammography exam can follow the same steps they would for conventional mammography.

  • Because menstruation can cause tenderness in the breasts, consider an appointment at least one week after your period begins.
  • Wearing comfortable, easy-to-remove clothing is recommended since a 3D mammography exam requires a bare torso.
  • Refrain from wearing perfume, lotion, deodorant and other products applied to the skin because these can interfere with imaging.
  • Inform your physician prior to an exam if you are pregnant, if you suspect that you are pregnant, if you are breastfeeding, if you have breast implants or if you are aware of any other medical conditions.



Undergoing a 3D mammography exam is similar to undergoing a conventional mammography exam. Patients are taken to a private exam room and asked to remove any clothing above the waist, as well as any jewelry and other accessories or objects that could interfere with the procedure.

For the duration of the exam, patients are positioned in front of a 3D mammography unit and the breasts are placed between two compression plates to minimize motion artifacts. While this may cause some discomfort, all possible steps are taken to make patients as comfortable as possible.

Once in position, the exam will begin and a robotic arm attached to the 3D mammography unit will move in an arc-like motion across the torso. The Rolling Oaks Radiology Women’s Center 3D mammography unit is equipped with software that keeps radiation exposure at levels similar to conventional mammography. A 3D mammography exam generally takes between 10 and 20 minutes.


A radiologist interprets 3D mammography images, investigating for signs of abnormal calcification or masses in the breast tissue. Results are delivered according to a standardized classification system called the Breast Imaging Reporting and Data System (BI-RADS).

If 3D mammography reveals dense breast tissue, the patient and her physician will be informed. If an abnormality is detected, additional imaging exams may be recommended in order to further investigate its cause.

To learn more about 3D mammography or to schedule an appointment, please fill out the following form or call 805-778-1513.

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