New Method Makes Mammography Better
Contrast Mammography May Detect Hard-to-Spot Breast Cancers
Sept. 30, 2003 -- An experimental new technique may help make
mammography better at detecting breast cancers that may go undetected with
traditional mammography methods.
Researchers say conventional mammography misses roughly 10% to
20% of breast cancers, including at least 9% that can be felt during a physical
The technique uses contrast material that's injected into the
patient to enhance the visibility of new blood vessel growth that accompanies
the development of breast tumors. Two digital mammography images are then taken
at different energy levels and subtracted from each other to reveal the
New research shows the method strongly enhanced 11 of 13
invasive breast cancers in women who were referred for biopsy because of an
abnormal mammography. The two other breast cancers were moderately or weakly
enhanced by the technique.
Making Mammography More Accurate
The study, published in the October issue of Radiology,
used the new method to evaluate 26 patients whose mammography or physical exam
results warranted a biopsy. Of the 26 patients, 13 had invasive breast
"By using a contrast agent with digital mammography, we
were able to see cancers that were invisible on conventional mammography. About
half of the women in the study had cancer, and this technique lit up all the
malignancies," says researcher John M. Lewin, MD, associate professor of
radiology at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver, in a
The 12 women without cancer showed weak blood vessel
enhancement or no enhancement at all.
Lewin says the new method is less expensive than MRI (magnetic
resonance imaging), which is currently used to detect breast cancers in
high-risk women, but he says more research is needed.
"This is still a research technique," says Lewin.
"If the results we achieve in further research are as good as what we have
so far reported, then I expect this could be clinically available in two to