New 3-D Mammograms for Breast Cancer Prevention

Researchers argue about whether digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT), or a 3-D mammogram, increases or decreases false-positive results for breast cancer.

We all hate the annual boob smash, but mammograms are a necessary evil that ultimately do good. Now there’s a new way of photographing the girls in 3-D called a digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT) in which multiple shots of your breasts are blended to create a single three-dimensional image.

Woman and her doctor

DBT doesn’t expose you to any more radiation than a 2-D mammogram, nor does it typically cause more discomfort, but is it more thorough? The jury is out. Some radiologists say it provides a clearer image, and they sometimes recommend them for women with denser breasts, but researchers also argue about whether DBT increases or decreases false-positive results.

“Most women who have an abnormal mammogram actually do not have cancer, and sometimes the test finds cancers that would never turn out to be life-threatening,” says Ilana Richman, M.D., assistant professor at the Yale School of Medicine and corresponding author of a recent study of 3-D mammography. 

Since it’s difficult to determine which cancers will or won’t be problematic, all women with possible cancerous growths are treated with procedures such as surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. “For many women, the possibility of a false positive is acceptable if it means that screening may find cancer early,” she adds.

Bottom line: It does not matter whether you choose 2-D or 3-D, so long as you go get your yearly smash.