In a world where progress in the most important thing to its people, it’s ironic when occasionally something old school seems to be just as good or even better than the most advanced piece of technology. Something like this was revealed in a study from Pittsburg, with ultrasounds as useful as mammograms in breast cancer detection.
- 6 million new cases of breast cancer were reported in 2010
- 2010 also brought the deaths of 425,000 women due to breast cancer
- It is estimated that by 2030 the number of new cases will raise to 2.1 million every year
- A portable ultrasound device comes in at $15,000, about 10 times less than mammography technology
- Mammograms can miss more than 50% of early stage breast cancers in dense breasted women
Led by Wendie A. Berg, the study performed at the American College of Radiology Imaging Network was dubbed ACRIN 6666 or the breast cancer screening study.
It employed the help of 2,662 women from the United States, Canada, and Argentina, and it focused on the accuracy of ultrasounds versus mammograms for dense breasted women.
The subjects went through three annual mammographies and ultrasounds, followed by either a 12 month follow-up examination or a biopsy, depending on each woman.
The results were quite interesting for the researchers, as well as for potential future breast cancer screening procedures.
Both the ultrasound and the mammography showed roughly the same number of results; however there were significant differences in the types of cancers detected.
As it turns out, despite the similar number of results, one type of cancer screening was better at showing some types of cancer, while the other was better at showing a different kind. Additionally, ultrasounds turned out to show more false positives than mammograms.
Most cancers picked up by mammograms were milk duct carcinomas, while the ultrasound was better at detecting invasive breast cancers.
The main problem with mammograms is that it’s hard to distinguish between the normal dense breast tissue and the tumor, as they both appear almost the same color. They can, however, detect the tumors if there are signs of calcification.
Ultrasounds, however, are much better at picking up tumorous cells, but they also tend to show more false positives.
The researchers cannot recommend substituting mammograms for ultrasounds, except for certain cases – when the woman isn’t very high-risk, or when the woman cannot undergo the MRI exam.
Otherwise, despite the extra cost, the researchers recommend, although a bit hesitantly, that women undergo both procedures, as to be sure that the cancer is identified and to reduce the odds of a false positive.
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