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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Test May Reduce Unnecessary Breast Biopsies

Elastography Measures Stiffness of Breast Lesions
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Dec. 2, 2009 (Chicago) -- A new test that looks at the stiffness of tissue may help distinguish between cancerous and benign breast lesions, potentially cutting down on unnecessary biopsies, researchers say.

Used in conjunction with breast ultrasound, the new imaging test, known as elastography, correctly identified 98% of cancerous lesions and 78% of those that weren’t cancerous in a study of about 200 women.

"With more research, elastography could impact decisions to not perform biopsies in patients who don’t need them," reducing anxiety and costs, says Stamatia V. Destounis, MD, of the Elizabeth Wende Breast Care in Rochester, N.Y.

About 80% of breast lesions that are biopsied turn out to be benign, according to the American Cancer Society.

Destounis presented the findings here at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

Cancerous Breast Lesions Stiffer than Benign Ones

When a mammography produces suspicious findings, ultrasound is often performed to further investigate the results.

However, it often results in more biopsies because of its inability to accurately distinguish between cancerous and benign lesions, Destounis tells WebMD.

Adding elastography -- which uses pressure from breathing, heartbeat, or pushing on the skin to measure the stiffness of a lesion -- may help improve correct diagnosis, she says.

Cancerous tumors tend to be stiffer than surrounding tissues or cysts, whereas benign lesions are more compressible, Destounis says.

All that's needed is special software and pushing a button on the ultrasound unit, she says.

Elastography Identifies 98% of Cancerous Breast Lesions

The new study involved 193 patients who underwent a total of 198 elastograms and ultrasounds. The doctors biopsied all the solid lesions that were detected.

Elastography correctly identified 98% of the 59 lesions that proved to be cancerous on biopsy.

Of the 69 lesions that turned out to be benign, elastography correctly identified 78% of them.

"We hope to improve on that number as the software continues to improve," Destounis says, adding that elastography has been around for a while but is experiencing a "resurgence."

Elastography Also Being Used to Help Diagnose Skin Cancer

The new study involved 193 patients who underwent a total of 198 elastograms and ultrasounds. The doctors biopsied all the solid lesions that were detected.

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