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New Method Makes Mammography Better

Contrast Mammography May Detect Hard-to-Spot Breast Cancers
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WebMD Health News

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 examination.

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 tumor.

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 cancers.

"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 news release.

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 five years."

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