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New Study Investigates if 3D Mammograms are Really Worth the Extra Cost

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Ah, the joys of aging! As thankful as I am for modern medicine, I sure wish they would find a way to screen me for things without the pokes, prods and …smashes of modern testing. When I turned 40 my doctor handed me my script for my mammogram with a smile and a “happy birthday.” Gee, thanks doc. But we all know how important mammograms are, so I scheduled it. Ok, I admit I waited a year, but I eventually did it.

Of course, I had heard all about the joys of mammograms from my friends who had been through it. Your chest being handled by a complete stranger and put in the pancake press. I had heard it wasn’t really painful, more just uncomfortable and I felt prepared when I arrived. But I wasn’t.

What I was not prepared for was the question I was asked in the room, prepared to begin. “Would you like to upgrade to the new 3D mammogram?” Um, a little notice on this one would have been nice. I immediately peppered the tech with questions she couldn’t answer. Was it recommended? Would it cost more? Would insurance cover it? Was there more radiation? How much more? I frantically texted my husband to Google it for me and let me know what he found in the next 30 seconds. Shockingly, that was not enough time for him to help me make my decision.

The bottom line, the tech told me, is this. The 3D does have more radiation because it is in addition to the 2D screening you would otherwise get. However, if you opt out of the 3D, and your 2D is inconclusive, you have to come back and get the 3D. If you come back, you’ve now had the radiation of two 2D’s and one 3D. And I had about one minute to make a decision. Because I have no family history of breast cancer, I rolled the dice and got the 2D. I had no clue what my doctor would have suggested and I was rushed for a decision. Thankfully, I wasn’t called back.

I have since heard from several women the same story. Fortunately, a study is under way that will give us the answer once and for all to the question “is the 3D mammogram worth it?”

According to WTOP.com, a new study is being done to determine if the 3D mammogram is really improves the screening for breast cancer. While 3D mammograms are supposedly better at finding tumors, according to doctors the real question is do they catch more life threatening cancers? That is what ultimately matters most. Detecting tumors that are harmless can put women through unnecessary procedures not to mention the psychological toll of a cancer scare.

The study will involve 100 clinics across the country which will enroll healthy women aged 45-74. These women will be randomly assigned to either a 2D or 3D mammogram yearly, for 5 years. They will then track the women’s results including all sorts of biometrics in a massive database that, through the miracle of computers, should be able to determine which method comes out on top.

So, as we wait for the results of this study to guide us, it is important to ask your doctor which mammogram he or she recommends.  You’ll be glad you know before you get to your mammogram and avoid having to make a split second, uninformed decision.

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