Women with dense (less fatty) breast tissue represent 40 percent of all U.S. women, and they are four to six times more likely to develop breast cancer than women with non-dense breast tissue. Cancers in these women are also more likely to go undetected after having a mammogram.
A recent study published in the American Journal of Roentgenology, conclude that for women with dense breast tissue, combining mammography with a 3-D automated breast ultrasound system can improve the detection of breast cancer by 29 percent.
The study analyzed the performance of 17 radiologists in their detection of breast cancer using full-field digital mammography only versus full-field digital mammography followed by 3-D automated breast ultrasound.
The radiologists looked at 185 cases collected from prior clinical studies in which both imaging methodologies had been used. Out of the 52 cases in which cancer was identified, 31 had been interpreted in the prior clinical studies as negative for cancer on the mammogram.
When comparing the mammogram and 3-D ultrasound results to results from the mammogram only, the radiologists enhanced their ability to detect cancer by what the study’s researchers termed a “statistically significant relative improvement.”
“The improved detection in nearly a third of women with dense breasts is significant because it means those are cancers that might not have been found until it became more apparent on a mammogram,” Giger said. “And by the time they were discovered, the cancer might have been at a more advanced stage.
“The takeaway here is women with dense breasts should augment traditional mammographic screening with another type of imaging modality, such as 3-D ultrasound (or MRI), in order to avoid missing cancerous lesions,” Giger added.
Giger is the A.N. Pritzker Professor of Radiology for the Committee on Medical Physics and the College at the University of Chicago, as well as the vice-chair for Basic Science Research in the Department of Radiology. She is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and is considered one of the pioneers in the development of computer-aided diagnosis, authoring or co-authoring more than 300 scientific manuscripts. She also is the inventor/co-inventor of 25 patents, and serves as a reviewer for various national and international granting agencies, including the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Army. In the breast cancer study, she served as an independent evaluator for the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the Automated Breast Ultrasound System from GE Healthcare.
Bottom line: For women with dense breasts, the addition of 3D bilateral whole breast ultrasound improves the early detection of breast cancer.
About the author: Raja P. Reddy, MD is a board certified diagnostic radiologist specializing in breast imaging. He is also a contributing editor for Women’s Imaging Specialists, a leading provider of outpatient women’s imaging services in the greater Atlanta, GA area.