The Latest in Breast Cancer Detection
New breast screening technologies are offering women more individualized care -- and a better chance at survival.
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 mammography.
"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."
A Bigger Slice of Life
Among the very newest screening techniques undergoing testing is "tomosynthesis." Using a form of digital mammography, it works to create a three-dimensional picture of the breast, allowing doctors to see between layers of tissue.
"Not only does this appear to yield improved detection, but it will hopefully reduce the number of 'false callbacks' -- and that can help reduce a lot of anxiety," says Lee.
Digital tomosynthesis is currently being tested at several major medical centers including NYU, Yale, and Duke. It may become more widely available for testing in the near future.
Another up-and-coming advance, says Lee, is positron emission mammography, or PEM. It involves injecting the body with a small amount of radioactive tracer dye, which is used by the PEM scan to image the breast.
"All these extra imaging techniques are not meant to replace mammogram but rather act as extra tools for women at increased risk, and in some instances, to help avoid unnecessary biopsies," says Lee.
What's in, Out, and in Question
Among screening procedures once considered important but now out of favor is ductal lavage. Here, doctors flushed fluid into the milk ducts and analyzed it for presence of abnormal cells to help determine risk of breast cancer.
The problem, says Lee, is that a negative result didn't always mean you were OK. "We realized this test is pretty pointless, and it's rarely done anymore," says Lee.
Also sharing some doubt is breast ultrasound. Although it's a safe and gentle way of imaging tissue without radiation, because it was found to miss at least some of what is seen on a mammogram it, too, fell out of favor as a breast cancercancer screening tool.