Physician Learning Center


Tomosynthesis 3D Imaging Improves Cancer Detection in Dense Breasts


Jamie Caughran, MD, FACS discusses new advances in 3D mammography. 3D mammography (also known as breast tomosynthesis) is an advanced tool to detect breast cancer. It is available as an option at Mercy Health Comprehensive Breast Center in Grand Rapids. 

3D Mammography Facts
Safe: No increase in radiation exposure
Effective: Particularly in women with dense breasts or those with increased risk for breast cancer
Fast: Only a few seconds longer than a traditional 2D mammogram
Convenient: Performed at the same time as your 2D mammogram
Benefits of 3D Mammography
  • Greater visibility of breast tissue
  • Improved accuracy in finding breast cancers
  • Fewer callbacks for additional mammograms and testing 
What to Expect

A 3D mammogram is very similar to a traditional (2D) mammogram. The difference is that a 3D mammogram allows the radiologist to view the breast in thin layers, providing greater detail. 

Schedule an Appointment

No referral for a 3D mammogram is needed. Call 616.685.4000 to schedule your appointment.


The 3D mammogram is currently not covered by insurance. The fee for this exam is $150 and due at the time of scheduling. To learn more about 3D mammography, please visit and select Grand Rapids.

What is breast density?

Breasts are made up of a mixture of fibrous and glandular tissue and fatty tissue. Your breasts are con- sidered dense if you have a lot of fibrous or glandular tissue but not much fat. Density may decrease with age, but there is little, if any, change in most women. 

How do I know if I have dense breasts?

Breast density is determined by the radiologist who reads your mammogram. There are four categories of mammographic density.The radiologist assigns each mammogram to one of the categories.Your doctor should be able to tell you whether you have dense breasts based on where you fall on the density scale. 

Why is breast density important?

Having dense breast tissue may increase your risk of getting breast cancer. Dense breasts also make it more difficult for doctors to spot cancer on mammograms. Dense tissue appears white on a mammogram. Lumps, both benign and cancerous, also appear white. So, mammograms can be less accurate in women with dense breasts. 

If I have dense breasts, do I still need a mammogram?

Yes. A mammogram is the only medical imaging screening test proven to reduce breast cancer deaths. Many cancers are seen on mammograms even if you have dense breast tissue. 

Are there any tests that are better than a mammogram for dense breasts?

In breasts that are dense, cancer can be hard to see on a mammogram. Studies have shown that ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can help find breast cancers that can’t be seen on a mammogram. However, both MRI and ultrasound, show more findings that are not cancer, which can result in added testing and unnecessary biopsies. Also, the cost of ultrasound and MRI may not be covered by insurance. 

What should I do if I have dense breasts? What if I don’t?

If you have dense breasts, please talk to your doctor. Together, you can decide which, if any, additional screening exams are right for you. If your breasts are not dense, other factors may still place you at increased risk for breast cancer — including a family history of the disease, previous chest radiation treatment for cancer and previous breast biopsies that show you are high risk.Talk to your doctor and discuss your history. Even if you are at low risk, and have entirely fatty breasts, you should still get an annual mammogram starting at age 40.



Jamie Caughran

Jamie Caughran, MD, FACS

Medical Director

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