New Breast Scanner Rivals Mammograms

And it works without flattening the breast, researchers say

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By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Nov. 27, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- A new imaging system has the promise of equaling or surpassing mammography in detecting breast cancer.

And it does it without squeezing the breast in a vice.

But the device is not thoroughly proven, and experts are urging caution in interpreting the findings.

"I'm enthusiastic. This sounds like something that's very helpful, but there have been a large number of technologies that each promise to take over mammography, but each time that proves not to be the case," said Dr. Joshua Kalowitz, chief of breast imaging at Maimonides Cancer Center in New York City.

The technology featured in this study, the Cone Beam Breast Computed Tomography (CBBCT) scanner, has primarily been tested only in healthy women and may not be able to pick up tiny abnormalities because of the resolution, Kalowitz added.

Preliminary results from a pilot study of the technique were to be presented Monday at the Radiological Society of North America's annual meeting, in Chicago.

Regular or film mammography is currently the gold standard for breast cancer detection. The challenge has been to find ways to detect malignancies at ever earlier stages, when they have a better chance of being cured.

The problem with mammography is that breasts, particularly in younger women, tend to be very dense, with much of that density captured in a mammogram. "A mammogram is limited because the density of the tissue above and below the area we're interested in may block our view," Kalowitz explained. "If something is smack in the middle of dense tissue, we may not be able to see it."

The CBBCT scanner takes a number of pictures of the breast from various angles then merges them into one 3-dimensional image. The system was developed by a professor at the University of Rochester, which holds several patents on the technology. The university licensed the technology to Koning Corporation to make, use and sell the scanners. The National Cancer Institute, along with private investors, helped fund the development of the scanner.

This pilot study used the CBBCT scanner to image 20 volunteers who had had normal mammograms, as well as a group of women who had had abnormalities detected during a physical exam or who had had suspicious mammograms. The goal of the study was simply to see how well the CBBCT could image the breast

The CBBCT proved itself at least as good as conventional mammogram in imaging the breast, the authors concluded.

The system also has the advantage of being more comfortable. The woman lies on her stomach on a cushioned exam table with a cutout in the middle. She suspends her breasts one at a time through the cutout while the CBBCT takes 300 images in the space of about 10 seconds. The radiation dose is comparable to that of mammography. Unlike conventional mammography, the CBBCT system clearly displays tissue around the ribs and outer breast near the armpits.

The pilot study will continue until 60 participants have been imaged. A larger trial is planned for next year.

Koning Corp. hopes to have a commercial scanner on the market as soon as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves the device. But other technologies may be further along, Kalowitz said.

"There's a lot of new stuff on the horizon," he said. "Five years from now, we'll be in a lot better shape, but right now, we have to see which ones will end up being the best."

Other research being presented at the Radiological Society meeting found that a new ultrasound technique called "elasticity imaging" allows doctors to accurately differentiate malignant and benign breast lesions.

An estimated 213,000 U.S. women will be found to have invasive breast cancer in 2006, and about 40,970 women will die from the disease this year. Right now, there are slightly more than 2 million American women who have been treated for breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.

More information

Visit the National Cancer Institute for more on breast cancer screening.

SOURCES: Joshua Kalowitz, M.D., chief of breast imaging, Maimonides Cancer Center, New York City; Nov. 27, 2006, presentation, Radiological Society of North America annual meeting, Chicago

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