The Picture of Health, in 3-D

New 3-D mammography technology provides radiologists and patients with vital information for breast cancer detection and prevention.

For Estella Zahner, 61, of Kansas City, Missouri, getting a 3-D mammogram in April was a way to stay ahead of potential problems. Her mother, 89, is a breast cancer survivor.

   Initially Zahner went to have a traditional 2-D mammogram at Olathe Medical Center, but the mammography technician explained that a 3-D mammogram would give the radiologist multiple views of each breast and, therefore, so much more information.

   “It’s early detection, and that sounded really good,” Zahner says, who works at the hospital as its patient access manager. “That’s why I went with it.”

   For years, Zahner has gotten a traditional mammogram but was pleasantly surprised by her 3-D experience. “It was less painful and pretty comfortable,” she says. “The actual procedure was very quick. Any time you can be ahead of a problem you’re better off. I would recommend it.”

   And her outcome?

   “Everything came out fine,” she says, adding that she knew the results immediately. “I’m good to go until next year.”  

   Zahner is one of a growing number of women opting for this revolutionary breast-cancer screening called tomosynthesis. Unlike 2-D mammography, 3-D mammography captures a series of 1-millimeter-thick images of each breast, providing radiologists with crucial information to help them detect cancer earlier, when the chances for cure are highest.

   As far as the procedure goes, little is different for the patient than in a traditional 2-D mammogram. A technologist compresses the breast to take two views, but with a 3-D mammogram an X-ray arm makes a quick arc over the breast to take about 100 images from multiple angles.

   Three-D mammography provides radiologists with exceptionally sharp breast images; greater diagnostic accuracy, especially if the woman has dense breast tissue; and fewer callbacks for additional imaging.

   “If you’ve had a mammogram and had to have extra views done, or are one of those women who have had cysts or multiple breast masses, all of those categories of women are the ones who are actually going to get a better result by doing the 3-D,” says Dr. Linda Harrison, a radiologist and women’s imaging specialist for Diagnostic Imaging Centers.

   Three-D mammography is exciting technology that has resulted in more Stage 1-4 invasive cancers being found, she says. “The interesting thing about it is that it’s finding more small, invasive cancers,” Harrison explains. “It’s not finding Stage 0 cancers, the non-invasive cancers,” which are somewhat controversial because some medical professionals say they are being overtreated.

   The 3-D images give radiologists the ability to identify and characterize individual breast structures without the confusion of overlapping tissue.

   “I can see the vessels. I can see the tissue. I can see the breast basically as planes of tissue all the way through,” Harrison explains. “So it allows us to know what’s normal for the woman better. It allows us to separate out and find what’s abnormal. Sometimes with a regular mammogram we can’t tell if it’s just tissue that’s a little bit asymmetric from side to side or if there’s truly something hiding in that breast tissue.”

   Carli Howard Good, executive director of Susan G. Komen Greater Kansas City, says the breast cancer advocacy foundation supports technology such as 3-D mammography because of its diagnostic capabilities. She says early detection of cancers confined to the breast have resulted in a 99.9 percent five-year survival rate, and appropriate treatment has also reduced mortality rates by 34 percent since 1990. The foundation recommends screenings for women at the appropriate times based on their age and their family health history.

   “Three-D mammography is a great advancement in technology and may help some women get detected sooner,” Good says. “A personalized treatment plan is best, and the most appropriate way to do this is by knowing your risk, knowing what’s normal for you, sharing your family history with your health care provider and getting screened when appropriate. These are all critical factors in the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancers.”

   According to Saint Luke’s Health System, which offers 3-D mammography, women might benefit from 3-D mammography especially if they have had prior mammograms with ambiguous or inconclusive results, been told they have dense breast tissue, been called back for repeated breast scans, undergone biopsies for suspicious masses or lesions in the past, and have or have had breast cancer or a family history of cancer.

Kansas City 3D Mammogram



   Harrison says women should do a little research before choosing where to get a 3-D mammogram. Diagnostic Imaging Centers, for example, uses the same dose of radiation for a 3-D mammogram as it does for a 2-D mammogram. Other providers may not.

   “The radiation we use is so low that it’s probably not a huge issue, but if they’re concerned about it, it’s worth asking, ‘Does your machine give the same radiation dosage as a 2-D?’” she says.

   Anyone can request a 3-D mammogram, but health insurance is an issue. Three-D mammography is not being covered consistently by insurance, although Medicare does cover it, Harrison says.

   “What Medicare does a lot of times, insurance follows, but not always,” she says. “We’re hopeful. This is probably the technique of the future.”


3-D Mammography in Kansas City


Centerpoint Medical Center

(816) 836-6686


Diagnostic Imaging Centers

(913) 344-9989  (Overland Park location)


Imaging for Women

(816) 453-2700


Johnson County Imaging

(913) 469-8998


Menorah Medical Center

(913) 498-6266


Olathe Medical Center

(913) 791-4395


Overland Park Regional Medical Center

(913) 541-5562


Research Medical Center

(800) 276-4000


Saint Luke’s Health System

(913) 317-7890


University of Kansas Hospital

(913) 558-1227