A UVA Heart & Vascular Center Initiative

Dense Breasts? New 3D Ultrasound Screening May Be Right for You

Posted October 17, 2017

Earlier this year, we shared some important facts about how breast density impacts your risk for breast cancer. The lowdown: women with dense or heterogeneously dense breast tissue (about 50 percent of all women) are 4 to 6 times more likely to receive a breast cancer diagnosis. In addition, studies have shown that traditional mammograms are less effective at identifying breast cancer in these patients.

So if you are one of the many women who have dense breast tissue, what steps should you be taking to ensure you’re screened effectively? We spoke to UVA radiologist Carrie Rochman, MD, about the latest in screening technology.

What type of screening is recommended for women with dense breasts?
Women with dense breast tissue should consider an alternate form of breast cancer screening in addition to traditional mammography. Digital breast tomosynthesis is preferable to a traditional mammogram because it produces a 3D image of the breast tissue. However, there are cancers even tomosynthesis can’t detect.

This is why UVA has just begun offering supplemental screening utilizing automated 3D ultrasound technology. Traditionally, breast ultrasound is done by a radiologist using a handheld probe, which captures images of specified areas of the breast. But this new automated technology covers the entire breast, so radiologists can get a clear representation of the full area of both breasts. These images are then saved in a patient’s file for future comparisons, which makes it easier to identify changes in breast tissue over time.

Does 3D ultrasound screening take longer to perform than a mammogram?
An automated 3D ultrasound screening will take longer than a traditional mammogram, but not as long as an ultrasound performed with a handheld probe. An automated 3D ultrasound screening takes approximately 15 minutes per breast.

How soon will patients receive results from a 3D ultrasound?
As with all radiology screenings, results from a 3D ultrasound should be available within 24 to 48 hours.

Who is eligible for supplemental 3D ultrasound screening?
Women at average risk for breast cancer who have dense or heterogeneously dense breasts are eligible for supplemental 3D ultrasound screening. At UVA Breast Care Center, we work to identify which patients will benefit most; it’s our goal to continue moving toward a patient-centric approach to screening overall.

How do women determine their breast density?
Breast density is determined during a traditional mammogram screening, not during a physical exam. Virginia law requires that women who fall into the two highest categories of breast density receive a letter notifying them of their classification. At UVA, these findings are recorded in a patient’s electronic medical record, along with recommendations for a complete risk assessment if necessary.

What are the risks of 3D ultrasound screening?
In general, the more tests you perform, the higher the likelihood of false positive results. Women should talk with their doctors and weigh the risks and benefits of this supplemental screening and screening in general.

Automated 3-D breast ultrasound is now being offered by referral at UVA Mammography Center Northridge, which is easy to access and has free, on-site parking.


Learn more about the options for breast cancer screening at UVA.


Photo courtesy of GE Healthcare