The Latest in Breast Cancer Detection
New breast screening technologies are offering women more individualized care -- and a better chance at survival.
Of course proper screening is crucial in detecting breast cancer. Though
mammogram remains the most recommended choice, there are a number of newer
options out there.
When it comes to advances in screening technology itself, some experts say
digital mammography is at the top of the list.
In much the way digital cameras changed the face of our family photo album,
doctors say that so, too, does digital mammography have the potential to
reshape the face of breast imaging.
"The experience for the woman -- and the machine itself -- are largely
the same; but what the digital does is allow contrast manipulations and other
types of computerized enhancements to give us a better, clearer picture of what
is going on in the breast," says Lee.
Experts like Etta Pisano, MD, who directed the largest clinical trail to
date on digital mammography, says this clearer picture will help doctors
discover many more cancers at an earlier, more easily treated stage.
"We did both digital and film mammograms with a year follow-up on 42,760
women -- and we found that digital mammography was better at finding
cancers in women under age 50, in women with dense breasts, and in pre- and
perimenopausal women," says Pisano, director of breast imaging at the
University of North Carolina School of Medicine.
Though there are no studies showing digital mammography saves lives, Pisano
tells WebMD that "the kind of cancers we found are the kind that kill
women, so we're pretty sure digital mammography has lifesaving
On the downside, it doesn't provide any advantage for postmenopausal women
-- those with the highest rate of breast cancercancer. And it is expensive, with equipment
costing up to five times that of traditional mammography. That said, Lee
explains that for the right woman, it can make an enormous difference.
Computers and Breast Screening
Further expanding on computer imaging is an advance known as CAD. Lee says
CAD uses information stored in a database to highlight areas on any breast
image that may require a second look -- including those taken by standard
"It has been shown that using CAD will increase cancercancer detection rate; it will cause a few more
false positives, but it also picks up more cancers," says Lee.
While not all facilities use CAD, Lee suggests women ask before they make
their appointment, adding that "it could be especially important if you are
at high risk."