3D vs. Whole Breast Ultrasound: Which is Right for You?

By: Tori Bowlin

September 29, 2017

Doctor with a patient

Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in women in the U.S. That’s why early detection is so important. Dr. George Krakora, a radiologist with Renown Institute for Cancer, explains what to watch for and how new technology can lead to early detection.

Most women know the importance of breast health and staying current with annual breast exams, but may not know that both screening guidelines and technology is evolving. So we asked George Krakora, MD, a radiologist for the Renown Institute for Cancer, what every woman should know about breast cancer detection and which screening method is right for them.

First off, when should women start getting breast exams?

Generally, women should start getting breast exams using mammography or ultrasound after they turn 40 years old. But we also want women ages 18 to 39 to talk to their primary care provider and ask for what’s called a formal risk assessment to see if screening is needed sooner. And you want to make sure your care provider is giving you a breast exam starting at age 25. It’s also a good idea to be familiar with how your breasts look and feel so you can report any changes to your care provider.

What are the risk factors for breast cancer? Are there any preventive steps women can take?

There a few risk factors you can’t control, like your age, family history of breast or other cancers, and if you have dense breast tissue. Your risk for breast cancer increases as you get older, and most breast cancers are diagnosed after age 50. Knowing your family history is important because a history of cancer and shared lifestyle can raise your risk. Your breast density can also increase your risk: Women with high breast density are four-to-five times more likely to get breast cancer than women with low breast density.

But the good news is there are quite a few things you can do to prevent breast cancer, like not smoking, watching your alcohol intake, and maintaining a healthy weight with good diet and exercise.

There are a lot of newer screenings out today. What is the difference between 2-D and 3-D mammography?

In a 2-D mammogram, the tech takes X-rays of the breast. These pictures can show the radiologist if there are any lumps or tumors you might not be able to feel.

In 3-D mammography, the process is largely the same but more X-rays are taken and it takes a few seconds longer for each image. This kind of exam detects 41 percent more cancers and reduces the number of false-positive results given to patients.

This improvement in technology is great for both patients and their care providers. 3-D mammography provides better images of the breast, which allow doctors to more clearly diagnose and avoid false positives, especially in women with dense breast tissue.

And what about a whole breast ultrasound. What is that?

A whole breast ultrasound uses sound waves to detect cancerous tumors in the breast without using any radiation — it’s an ultrasound just like pregnant women get to check up on their baby. And the exam only takes about 20 minutes.

We recommend these exams for patients whose mammograms have shown that they have dense breast tissue. Dense breast tissue can make it harder for doctors to see any abnormalities, lumps or tumors in a mammogram, so this technology ensures better early detection.