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Researchers Optimistic About New Breast Cancer Technology

Posted by Chrissie Cole
Thursday, September 04, 2008 10:51 AM EST
Category: Major Medical
Tags: FDA & Prescription Drugs, Breast Cancer, Women's Health, Mammogram, Molecular Breast Imaging, MBI, MRI


IMAGE SOURCE: © iStockPhoto / Breast Cancer Survivors / author: JBryson

A new experimental technique called molecular breast imaging (also referred to as MBI) was three times more effective than traditional mammography at detecting breast cancer tumors in women who have dense breast tissue, researchers said.

The study findings are being presented at a breast cancer meeting sponsored by the American Society of Clinical Oncology 2008 Breast Cancer Symposium (ASCO) in Washington, D.C., this week.

The National Cancer Institute estimates 184,000 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2008, of them, 41,000 women will die of the disease.

Molecular Breast Imaging will not become a replacement for mammograms, an x-ray of the breasts, for women at average risk for the breast cancer.

But in the future it is likely to be used for diagnosing higher risk women who have a lot of dense breast tissue that makes detecting tumors harder on mammograms.

An estimated one-fourth of women over forty have dense breasts.

“MBI is a promising technology” that has been in the advanced stages of testing for six years, said Carrie Hruska, a biomedical engineer at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

MBI, like that of an X-ray uses radiation, but in different ways. The patient is injected with a radioactive agent that is absorbed by breast tissue. The Cancer cells “soak up” more than that of healthy cells making them more prominent. Special cameras then detect the “glow” the cells give off helping doctors to detect any tumors and abnormalities.

For the study, researchers compared both techniques on a group of 940 women with dense breasts, who had a high risk of breast cancer due to family history, bad genes, or other reasons.

MBI testing detected 10 of 13, missing three tumors; mammograms detected only 3 of 13 and missed 10 tumors. Using both methods, 11 out of 13 tumors would have been detected.

Mammograms are known to give off false positives leading doctors to misdiagnose breast cancer when cancer was not present – in 9 percent of patients, compared to 7 percent for MBI. Overall, MBI testing led to more biopsies than mammograms, but they revealed cancer more often.

Researchers are planning to compare MBI-testing versus MRI scanning next. A new study will be led by the Mayo Clinic and funded by the government and will include 120 high-risk women with dense breast tissue.

MRI scans are commonly used in women with dense breasts, but it is known to give a false diagnosis that in many instances leads to an unnecessary biopsy. Doctors are hopeful that the MBI technique will prove more accurate and cost efficient than the mammogram. The MBI technique is under $500 versus $1,000 or more for an MRI scan.

The use of Mammography, while helpful, is flawed and we need to do better in the future, Dr. Eric Winer of the Dana-Farber Cancer Center in Boston said.

Mammograms fail to detect between 10 to 15 percent of breast cancers, he said. “It’s fair to say that MRI will not solve all problems as well.”

MBI does have one downside – in its current state it uses 8 to 10 times more radiation than that of mammograms. Engineers are working to lower that dosage with newer technology, but researchers remain optimistic about the new technology and what it means for the future. #

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