Digital Breast Tomosynthesis

Digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT, or sometimes informally referred to as "3D mammography") is a further evolution of digital mammography, recommended for women starting at age 40.* Building on the the success of traditional mammography, DBT can help us save lives by improving our ability to detect early cancers. At the same time, this technology has been shown to reduce false positives. 

DBT takes multiple images of the breast from different angles, improving our ability to see through overlapping tissue structures. As is standard at UCSF, we take utmost care to minimize radiation dose and enhance safety while maintaining the highest diagnostic image quality. It is the combination of our world-renowned physicians and protocols, our highly skilled and caring team members, and the leading technology we choose that have resulted in our being considered the trusted resource for mammography in the Bay Area. 

Remember, screening starting at age 40* saves lives by detecting cancers early, when they are more treatable and curable.  Please contact us so that we can learn more about your needs.

Benefits of digital breast tomosynthesis versus conventional mammography alone:

  • Reduced callbacks.
  • Potential to detect more invasive cancers.
  • Clearer images and more confident diagnosis.
  • Highest standards of image quality.


  • Appropriate for women 40* and over undergoing routine screening.

UCSF Breast Imaging Advantages:

  • Providing the world’s highest standards with our dedicated team of experts, evidence-based practice, and leading technology.
  • UCSF Breast Imaging is designated as a Breast Imaging Center of Excellence by the American College of Radiology.
  • Higher than average cancer detection rates.
  • Lower than average recall rates.

*Some women with a strong family history of breast cancer or other risk factors may benefit from screening before age 40, and may also benefit from digital breast tomosynthesis.

Our commitment:                

  • Easy access and scheduling                            
  • Use of newest and safest technologies
  • Expedited results
  • All studies read by world-renowned UCSF sub-specialists            
  • Interdisciplinary reviews
  • Top-quality, compassionate care    

How to order tomosynthesis for your patients

All orders from physicians outside UCSF start with a referral (please use our referral form) faxed to (415) 353-7299. Once the fax has been sent to UCSF, please wait 15 minutes for your fax to be entered into our system, and then follow-up with a phone call to schedule the appointment at (415) 353-3900. Either the patient or the provider may schedule the appointment.

What is the cost? Billing and insurance questions

After a DBT exam is scheduled, UCSF’s Central Authorization Unit will help patients and referring practices with pre-service insurance authorization or pre-service coverage determination when the patient is referred by a UCSF provider. Patients referred by non-UCSF providers must obtain insurance authorization through their referring physician’s office. In most cases this procedure is covered by insurance plans, including Medicare. UCSF’s Radiology Billing Department at (415) 514-8888 is happy to answer any questions about billing or provide price estimates for any radiology services.

How to prepare for digital breast tomosynthesis

Preparing for a digital breast tomosynthesis exam

Before scheduling your exam:

  • In advance of your exam, always tell your doctor and the technologist if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Your breasts may be more sensitive at certain times of the month. Try to schedule your exam when your breasts are the least sensitive.
  • Obtain any previous mammogram images that were completed by a provider other than UCSF.

The day of your exam:

  • Do not wear underarm deodorant or apply powders, creams, or lotions to your underarms or breasts.
  • Consider wearing an outfit with separate top and bottom clothing, so you don’t have to undress all the way.
  • Bring any mammogram images that were completed by a provider other than UCSF.

The procedure:

When you arrive for your appointment, you’ll be asked to remove your top and any jewelry above the waist. You will then stand in front of the tomosynthesis device. The technician will help position your breast between two plastic plates. Moderate pressure is applied. The technician will conduct the exam from her workstation. During the procedure, the device’s tube will move in an arc around your breast. The entire exam takes about 15 minutes.


Division Chief, Breast Imaging, Medical Director BOPC
Professor in Residence