Breast Ultrasounds Spot More Cancers
High-Risk Women Benefit From Addition of Ultrasound to Mammography
WebMD News Archive
Annual Ultrasounds Improve Breast Cancer Detection
The study involved 2,809 women at increased risk for breast cancer due to
dense breasts, having a breast cancer gene, or family history of breast
Dense breast tissue is not only a known risk factor for breast cancer, but
also makes it harder to spot cancer on mammograms.
About a third of the mammograms that were done the first year were digital;
this increased to 52% by the third year.
A total of 111 women were diagnosed with cancer over the three-year
Combined screening with mammography plus ultrasound found 82% of the
cancers, compared with only 53% for mammography alone, Berg says.
Nine of the cancers that were not detected with combined screening were
found when MRI was offered in the third year of the study.
"Having digital mammography didn't improve the detection rate [over film
mammography]," Berg says.
MRI Spots Even More Breast Cancers
The researchers also used MRI to scan a subset of 612 patients in the third
year of the study.
"MRI increased the cancer detection rate by another 56%," she says.
While the number of women studied with MRI was relatively small, this shows
that "if you really want to find as many of the cancers as you possibly can,
doing the MRI was even more sensitive, by far, than the combination of
mammography and ultrasound," Berg says.
The major drawback to adding ultrasound or MRI screening was an increase in
false-positives, with women having to then undergo biopsies, she says.
But Berg says modern biopsy techniques are "like going to the dentist. It's
done in about 15 minutes with lidocaine."
Most women "say it's not a big deal, that they would rather be sure there's
no cancer," she says.
Some women cannot tolerate MRI because it requires an injection or makes
them feel claustrophobic, she says.
"Women at high risk of breast cancer should consider an MRI. If they can't
tolerate it, ultrasound is now a viable alternative," Berg says.
RSNA spokesperson Joseph Tashjian, MD, president of St. Paul Radiology in
Minnesota, tells WebMD that the findings show the value of additional screening
tools in women at high risk of breast cancer.
Women should discuss the risks and benefits of additional screening with
their doctors, he says.