Current Methods for Detecting Breast Cancer
While mammography still remains the first step for breast cancer screening and diagnosis, it is less accurate in patients with dense breast tissue, implants or other factors that result in complex breast tissue.
There are many testing options beyond mammography for breast cancer diagnosis:
Ultrasound is used to further evaluate abnormalities found in mammography. An ultrasound uses sound waves to create images and recognize irregularities in the breast. It is an effective way to differentiate between cystic and solid masses in the breast and can be a very useful diagnostic tool. In addition, ultrasound is often used to guide biopsy procedures.
Solid masses discovered by ultrasound may be benign or malignant and often this modality helps the physician to determine the need for a biopsy. However, there are cases where mammography and ultrasound together are still unable to provide a clear picture for the physician.
A negative ultrasound in patients with a palpable mass (felt externally by touch) cannot be used to completely rule out cancer, as some tumors may be undetectable to ultrasound.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) utilizes a magnetic field to visualize the features of soft tissues with highly detailed resolution, even in cases of dense breasts or implants.
During an MRI, you lie still inside of a narrow tube as the machine creates images of your body. Like an X-ray, the images are taken of anatomical structures and then a contrast media, called Gadolinium, is often injected. This contrast media makes areas of increased blood flow show up as bright spots in the image. Since cancers have increased blood flow, they show up as areas of enhancement. Images of the breast are reconstructed in slices from several different angles.
Unfortunately, not all cancers are visible on MRI and some cancers, such as ductal carcinoma in-situ and lobular carcinoma, are more difficult to detect using MRI. In addition, there are many benign conditions that have increased blood flow and these also enhance under MRI. These enhancements are false-positives and can make treatment planning difficult as well as lead to unnecessary biopsies. One study found that in using MRI in patients with one known cancer, 78 percent of the additional areas detected were benign at biopsy.
The molecular imaging techniques are effective in the early detection of cancer and can be used to help distinguish malignant and benign tumors through the cellular absorption of a tracing agent.
For molecular imaging, tests specific to breast imaging such as BSGI/MBI (also known as breast scintigraphy) and Positron Emission Mammography (PEM) reveal tumors in dense or surgically altered breasts. While BSGI/MBI can be used in patients with difficult to diagnose breast tissue, most insurance companies limit the use of PEM to patients with known cancer diagnosis.
BSGI/MBI uses a small injection of radioactive material that in breast cancers are revealed as "hot spots" in the image. This is because cancerous cells have a higher rate of metabolic activity than normal cells, and absorb more of the tracing agent at a faster rate than healthy tissue.
BSGI: See What MattersTM… NowMany women are told to "wait and see" for a six-month follow up after a suspicious mammogram, prolonging the fear and anxiety. Oftentimes, biopsies are performed that are traumatic and can leave scarring — a large percentage of these result in benign findings. BSGI/MBI is a valuable "next step" when faced with a questionable mammogram that can help you and your physician obtain accurate answers fast.
The BSGI procedure allows for same-day results and can help evaluate the need for biopsy.