The Latest in Breast Cancer Detection
New breast screening technologies are offering women more individualized care -- and a better chance at survival.
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.
But now new clinical trials are showing ultrasound may be effective in
detecting some abnormalities missed by a mammogram.
Bevers says it remains an especially important diagnostic tool for breast
cystscysts (fluid-filled sacs) --
and may help some women avoid a biopsy.
Still, experts say it can result in false positives when imaging other types
of breast lesions, and in these instances, may increase the risk of unnecessary
Meanwhile, all the experts we talked to told WebMD that right now, nothing
beats a mammogram as an initial screening tool.
Says Lee: "Even if your facility does not offer digital mammography or
any new advances, get a mammogram -- this is still the best method we have for
breast cancer screening."