What’s a 3-D mammogram?
A mammogram is an X-ray of breast tissue. It’s used to screen for breast cancer.
Traditional mammography produces two-dimensional (2-D) images. A healthcare professional will examine these flat black-and-white images on a computer screen.
3-D mammography is a newer type of mammography. It’s known by many other names, such as tomosynthesis.
3-D mammography machines take multiple pictures of the breast all at once and from different angles, creating a clearer image with more detail.
In both 2-D and 3-D mammography, the breast is compressed between two X-ray plates. In 2-D mammography, pictures are taken from the front and side angles. In 3-D mammography, pictures are taken in “slices” from multiple angles.
In many cases, you may have 2-D and 3-D mammograms performed together. It may take a radiologist longer to interpret 3-D mammogram results because there are more images to look through.
Why should I get a mammogram?
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), in 2021, more than 281,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in the United States. Roughly 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime.
Routine screening and diagnostic testing with mammograms help doctors detect breast cancer early. Early detection is the key to treating breast cancer before it spreads, which improves survival rates.
Screening mammograms are used to check for tumors in people with no signs or symptoms of breast cancer.
Diagnostic mammograms may be ordered for people who have:
- abnormal screening mammograms
- lumps discovered during an examination
- a history of breast cancer
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the American College of Physicians recommend that women ages 50 to 74 years old and at average risk for breast cancer receive screening mammograms every other year.
Doctors may also recommend screening mammograms to younger women who have a family history of breast cancer.
Compared with 2-D mammography, 3-D mammography:
- detects a slightly higher proportion of breast tumors
- is better at detecting breast tumors in denser breast tissue
- produces more detailed images, similar to those from a CT scan
- may reduce the need for follow-up imaging tests
3-D mammography, when performed alone, doesn’t expose the body to significantly more radiation than traditional 2-D mammography. Some 3-D mammography machines may actually use less radiation than 2-D mammography machines.
Where can I find low-cost or free mammograms?
Many programs and services are available to help women, including uninsured and underinsured women, access breast cancer screenings.
First, find out if you’re eligible to receive a mammogram through the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP). The NBCCEDP is a program of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The NBCCEDP provides funding for a variety of local screening programs throughout 50 states, 6 territories, and Washington, D.C. Funding is also provided to 13 Indigenous organizations and programs.
These local screening programs include the:
- Cherokee Nation Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program
- Women’s Wellness Connection program of Colorado
- Guam Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program
- Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer Program (IBCCP)
- Mississippi Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program
- Women’s Health Connection program of Nevada
- New Mexico Department of Health Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program
You might also be eligible for Medicaid. To learn if you’re eligible and what type of coverage you would receive for mammograms, visit your state’s Medicaid page.
National cancer organizations
National cancer organizations are also a great resource for information on low- cost or free mammograms:
- Seek financial assistance through the American Breast Cancer Foundation’s Breast Cancer Assistance Program.
- Contact the ACS to learn more about patient resources in your area. They’re available 24 hours a day at 800-227-2345 and 5 days a week through live chat. Assistance is available for people living in Puerto Rico as well.
- Contact the Komen Breast Care Helpline at 877-GO-KOMEN (877-465-6636) or firstname.lastname@example.org to learn about affordable screening services near you.
- Search for facilities that provide free mammograms through the National Breast Cancer Foundation’s National Mammography Program.
You can also ask your doctor if they know about any patient assistance programs or low-cost breast cancer screening services in your region.
How much does a mammogram cost without insurance?
For people who are uninsured but haven’t received a low-cost or free mammogram, mammogram costs can vary widely.
One 2019 study used data from the 2015 National Health Interview Survey to examine out-of-pocket costs for recent mammography screenings. Over 3,000 people participated in the survey. A small number of them (84 people) were uninsured.
Most uninsured people reported that they paid no out-of-pocket costs. However, they were still more likely to pay out-of-pocket costs than people with insurance.
Only 25.6 percent of those ages 50 to 64 years old with private insurance paid out-of-pocket costs, in comparison to 39.1 percent of participants ages 50 to 64 years old with no insurance.
Research also suggests that people who are uninsured may pay more for mammograms overall.
The market research firm, The Martec Group, also conducted a few in-depth interviews with individuals, healthcare professionals, and insurance agents in six states.
A wide range of costs were reported for uninsured people receiving screening mammograms, while screening mammograms were free for almost all privately insured people:
Interestingly, the reported costs for diagnostic mammograms were often higher for people with private insurance than for people without insurance:
How much does a mammogram cost with insurance?
If you have health insurance, the cost of getting a mammogram will depend on:
- your specific insurance plan and the services that it covers
- whether the mammogram is for breast cancer screening or diagnosis
- whether your plan charges coinsurance or copay fees for mammograms
- whether the healthcare professional you see falls within your network of coverage
To learn whether your insurance plan covers mammograms for breast cancer screening or diagnosis, contact your insurance provider.
Depending on your insurance plan and the type of mammogram you get, you might need to meet your insurance deductible before it’s covered.
The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that Medicaid covers screening mammograms in most states.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires most private health insurance plans to cover the full costs of screening mammograms every 1 to 2 years for women ages 40 years and older. However, those insurance plans may provide less coverage or charge higher copays for diagnostic mammograms.
Studies on cost
A couple of large studies have examined the total cost of mammography, which includes the costs paid by the insurance company as well as any costs paid by the person insured.
In a 2020 study, researchers gathered data on the annual cost of breast cancer screening for women in their 40s living in the United States. All of the study participants were insured through Blue Cross Blue Shield.
The researchers found that initial screening and follow-up tests cost an average of $353 a year, which included:
- $125 for a 2-D screening mammogram
- $124 for a 3-D screening mammogram
- $21 for a 2- D diagnostic mammogram
- $8 for a 3-D diagnostic mammogram
A 2018 study used data from medical claims to estimate the average cost of breast imaging and diagnostic procedures in the United States. The medical claims were submitted between 2011 and 2015 by women ages 18 years and older.
The researchers estimated that the average cost of a 2-D diagnostic mammogram for people ineligible for Medicare was $354. The average cost of a 3-D diagnostic mammogram for people ineligible for Medicare was $136.
Some plans provide the same coverage for 2-D and 3-D mammograms. Others don’t cover 3-D mammograms or charge higher copays for them.
States that require insurance companies to cover the costs of 3-D mammograms in cases where they’re deemed medically necessary include:
- Connecticut (for women ages 35 years and older)
- New York
- Texas (for women ages 35 years and older)
If you have Medicare
Medicare covers 2-D and 3-D mammograms.
If you have Medicare Part B, your plan will cover:
- one baseline mammogram if you’re a woman between the ages of 35 and 39 years old
- one screening mammogram every 12 months if you’re a woman age 40 years or older
- more frequent diagnostic mammograms if medically necessary
If you have Original Medicare, and your healthcare facility accepts Medicare payment rates, you won’t be charged anything for annual screening mammograms.
After meeting your deductible, you may be charged 20 percent of the Medicare- approved amount for diagnostic mammograms.
Does low cost mean lower quality?
All mammography facilities in the United States must meet the quality criteria set out in the Mammography Quality Standards Act (MQSA).
This means that free and low-cost mammograms must be conducted with the same baseline level of care and quality as more expensive mammograms.
The regulations the MQSA put in place help ensure that:
- personnel who conduct mammograms, interpret mammograms, or survey the equipment are experienced and well trained
- mammography facilities keep certain records and have a successful quality control program
- facilities have a system for following up on abnormal mammograms and obtaining the results of biopsies
The MQSA also requires that state inspectors or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) conduct annual inspections of mammography facilities.
Visit the FDA’s website to search for certified mammography facilities in your area.
What’s the takeaway?
Speak with a healthcare professional to learn how often you should get screening mammograms.
Routine mammograms can be used to help detect breast cancer before it spreads to other parts of the body. Early diagnosis and treatment are key to improving the outlook of people with breast cancer.
If you have health insurance and you’re at least 40 years old, your insurance provider is likely to cover 2-D screening mammograms.
Contact your insurance provider for specific information about your plan, such as whether they cover 3-D mammography or diagnostic mammograms.
If you don’t have insurance or your insurance plan doesn’t cover mammograms, you may be able to get a free or low-cost mammogram through one of the many local or national organizations offering them.
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