3-D mammogram can help find breast cancer early

- It's the annual screening that women like to avoid, but it can be a lifesaver - finding breast cancer early.

A mammogram compresses the breast tissue and, using low dose X-ray, looks for changes.

"Mammograms are essentially a map of your breast," said Dr. Lisa Awan, Beaumont Breast Care. "It shows you where everything is, the symmetry, it tells you what kind of tissue you have. And the best power we have is to compare it to last year's mammogram.

"That's why it's important to do annual every year mammogram, so we can look at last year and see if there is a change."

So what's the difference between a regular mammogram and 3D?

Think of a regular mammogram like flipping through a photo album, and a 3D mammogram is like a virtual tour of your breast tissue. There are multiple images and different angles create a 3D image of the breast.

"It separates dense tissue so we can actually see if cancer is in the middle of them," says Dr. Lisa Awan, a breast imaging radiologist at the Beaumont Breast Care Center in Dearborn.

She says only women with dense breasts need a 3D mammogram, which is about 40 percent of women in America.

"The more fat you have in your breast it is considered to be less dense," she said. "Cancers are easily found in breasts that are fatty. The less amount of fat in your breast it is considered to be less dense. Dense tissue can hide cancer, can mask it. That's why it's harder to find cancer in those women."

So how do you know if you have dense breast tissue? It's not about the size or shape, or how they feel -- a doctor needs to tell you.

"Women that are younger can have denser breasts," she said. "It's independent of breast size or weight. It's really different types tissue in all different types of people."

Why wouldn't everyone get a 3D mammogram?  It's slightly larger dose of radiation, and can be a little more expensive and, according to Dr. Awan, if you don't have dense breasts, it's not necessary.

At this point, it isn't recommended for everyone, but Dr. Awan believes everyone will eventually get a 3-D mammogram.

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