3-D mammographies offer better chance at early cancer diagnosis

This machine performs 3-D mammographies, allowing doctors to see better images of possible cancerous tissues. Courtesy Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center

Another year of National Breast Cancer Awareness month brings notice to improvements in technology for treatment and diagnosis of the disease.


New technology takes 3-D images during mammographies, allowing doctors a better chance at noticing cancer earlier.

Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center began using a 3-D mammography machine in December.

Connie Phelps, Breast Health Center program manager, said the updated mammography machine takes many detailed photos, allowing physicians a better look at tissues that may contain cancer.

“We certainly have seen it can show us cancer that we would not have seen on a 2-D exam,” Phelps said.

The 3-D mammography machine has an X-ray arm that sweeps over the breast and takes many images in a few seconds.

What results from the exam are images of slices of the breast from front to back and also at an angle from side to side.

“It’s almost like we’re peeling off layer by layer and looking at portions of the breast at a time,” Phelps said.

The images allow doctors to see the same tissue from different angles, meaning there’s a better chance of noticing cancerous tissue.

“Studies show the 3-D exams can detect breast cancer earlier than 2-D exams,” Phelps said.

All patients are offered a 3-D mammography, and the procedure is covered by Medicare, Phelps said.

“We had women who were calling asking if we had it before we got it,” Phelps said. “Now they’re excited to know we have the latest equipment.”

For most patients, the average out-of-pocket cost for a 3-D mammography is about $70, Phelps said.

About two-thirds of patients elect to have a 3-D mammography, Phelps estimated.

After a mammography is performed, if a physician sees a possible lesion inside the breast, the patient will be called back for a second mammography.

“The 3-D mammography can reduce the number of women that get called back after a screening mammography to have a diagnostic mammography because there is a lot more detail in the 3-D mammogram images,” Phelps said.

Not having to come back for a second test can save a patient time and money, and, most importantly, stress.

“It may provide more peace of mind for patients to know this is more conclusive,” Phelps said.

The next step after determining that a patient has a breast lesion is to perform a biopsy, a procedure that can also be done at Piedmont Athens Regional.

Phelps said physicians there can perform a 3-D stereotactic biopsy to identify the lesion and determine if it needs to be removed.

The 3-D mammography will also be offered to patients at the Breast Health Center at Oconee Centre Three Sixteen health park, Phelps said.

St. Mary’s Health Care System also offers 3-D mammography to patients at its hospital and its Outpatient Diagnostic, Rehab and Wellness Center.

Follow reporter Hilary Butschek on Twitter @hilarylbutschek or at https://www.facebook.com/hbutschek.