A new study suggests that ultrasonography (US) can be used to diagnose cancer in women with dense breasts.
The researchers examined data from 2,809 women from across the U.S., Canada, and Argentina. All the participants had dense breasts and, at least, one other risk factor for breast cancer. Each participant underwent three screenings over three years with mammography and ultrasonography.
‘The number of breast cancers is increasing across the globe, with over 1.6 million new cases of the disease in 2010, resulting in the deaths of over 425,000 women. By 2030, 2.1 million new breast cancer cases are expected.’
Overall, 111 breast cancers were found. Both tests identified the same number of cancers, with 129 women needing an ultrasound or 127 women needing a mammography for doctors to find one cancer.
Mammography was better at picking up cancers with so-called calcifications, such as are characteristic of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), the most common non-invasive form of breast cancer. DCIS may spread and become invasive cancer, but is not life-threatening on its own - and some researchers question whether it should be called "cancer" at all.
Lead author of the study, Dr. Wendie Berg, of Magee-Womens Hospital of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, said, "Ultrasound was better at detecting invasive cancers and those without calcifications."
"It's likely the cancers we find on ultrasound will make a bigger difference than those we find in mammography," said Berg.
"Women with dense breasts should consider supplemental screening with ultrasound, but high-risk women who follow the American Cancer Society recommendation to receive an additional MRI don't need ultrasound screening," said Berg.
The researchers said that advancements in technology may also mean breast cancer screening with ultrasound is an acceptable alternative for women in developing countries.
"It seemed like a particularly relevant question because in many countries there is no mammography available. There are now low-tech ultrasound devices that produce images of similar quality to devices used in this study," said Berg.
The study is published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.