Three-dimensional images are typically reserved for – and enjoyed on – the big screen for their entertainment value. But the clinical staff at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Waxahachie Women’s Imaging Center is quickly gaining an appreciation for the technology on a smaller screen thanks to the new 3D mammography technology the center is now using to screen women for breast cancer.

“The goal of a screening mammogram is to detect breast cancer as early as possible when it is most treatable,” explained Phyllis Burton, director of breast imaging at Baylor Scott & White – Waxahachie. “Studies have shown that 3D mammography has a significantly higher detection rate over two-dimensional images.”

In fact, Burton said, research has shown up to a 40 percent increased detection rate for invasive cancers over traditional 2D mammography, and a 29 percent increase in overall detection. Additionally, the recall rate – women who need additional imaging due to changes observed on their current imaging – is anywhere between 15 to 40 percent lower with 3D mammography.


“With a 2D mammogram, all the breast tissue is compressed, which can hide masses or – on the flip side – make it look like there is something there that really isn’t,” Burton said.

With the center’s 3D mammography, the radiologist on the medical staff who reviews the images can see different layers (or “slices”) of breast tissue, allowing for much more detailed analysis than a flat image consisting of layers of breast tissue stacked on top of one another. While the technology can benefit all women, it is particularly useful for women with dense breast tissue.

Though the results of the mammogram are more detailed, the actual process and time it takes to have a 3D mammogram is about the same as traditional mammography. It also does not impact the frequency that women should receive regular screening mammograms.

Despite a recent debate over certain screening mammography guidelines, Baylor Scott & White Health and Burton agree with the current screening recommendations from both the American College of Surgeons and American College of Radiology. That means for women at normal risk of breast cancer, a yearly mammogram starting at age 40.

“What we look for is changes to the breast tissue from year-to-year, so it is still important to have that annual mammogram,” said Burton.

Women with a family history of the disease or who have other risk factors should consult their physician for mammography screening recommendations.

As far as health plan coverage, traditional screening mammograms are covered as preventive care by both Medicare and health insurance. Three-dimensional mammograms also are covered at 100 percent by Medicare and most (but not all) private health insurance plans in Texas as well. Patients should check with their insurance company to be sure.

Burton believes that Baylor Scott & White – Waxahachie’s newest tool to detect breast cancer will go a long way in helping Ellis County women beat the disease.

“It’s amazing the small cancers they are finding with 3D mammography," Burton added, "and it’s amazing how early they are able to find them.”