Screening Ultrasound Improves Breast Cancer Detection in Dense Breasts

Posted on March 8th, 2009 by

Screening Ultrasound Improves Breast Cancer Detection in Dense Breasts

The addition of ultrasound for the screening of breast cancer significantly improves detection rates among women who have dense breast tissue. These results were recently reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Dense breast tissue is associated with an increased risk of developing breast cancer. As well, breast cancer can be difficult to detect in dense breasts: the majority of very early breast cancers are not identified by mammography alone among women with dense breast tissue. Therefore, researchers have been evaluating ways in which to provide more effective and accurate screening for breast cancer among women with dense breast tissue.

Researchers from 21 different medical institutions recently conducted a clinical study to evaluate the effectiveness of a one-time ultrasound screening in addition to mammography for the screening of breast cancer among 2,809 women with dense breast tissue. Each patient underwent both mammography and ultrasound. The following findings were observed:

• The addition of ultrasound to mammography significantly increased the ability to detect breast cancer.

• Ultrasound also resulted in a greater number of false-positive readings (a false reading that cancer is present when it is not).

• The main benefit of ultrasound is the detection of small breast cancers that have not yet spread to lymph nodes in women with very dense breast tissue.

The researchers concluded: “The detection benefit of a single screening ultrasound in women at elevated risk of breast cancer is now well validated”. However, researchers caution that further studies are necessary to provide screening guidelines using ultrasound, particularly due to the increase in false-positive readings.

Patients with dense breast tissue may wish to speak with their physician regarding participation in a clinical trial further evaluating ultrasound or other novel screening methods for breast cancer. Two sources of information regarding ongoing clinical trials include the National Cancer Institute (http://www.cancer.gov) and http://www.eCancerTrials.com.

Reference: Berg W, Blume J, Cormack J, et al. Combined screening with ultrasound and mammography vs mammography alone in women at elevated risk of breast cancer. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2008; 299: 21512163.

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