Tumors can hide behind breast implants in X-rays


It's a painless, easy test, but 39-year-old Eryn Bradley is filled with anxiety. In her 20s, she made a decision to get breast implants -- something she didn't realize would make it more difficult to spot breast cancer.

"No one everytold me that mammograms weren't good enough," said Bradley.

Dr. Deanna Attai, a breast cancer surgeon, says implants can make X-rays more difficult to read.

"What women need to realize is that the presence of implants doesn't inherently increase their risk of developing a breast cancer," said Attai.

A recent British Medical Journal study found the death rate from breast cancer is higher in women with implants because the disease is often caught much later.

Dr. Kevin Kelly has been reading mammograms for more than 30 years. But he believes women with implants should also get ultrasounds, because ultrasounds can often detect tumors when mammograms miss them.

However, experts point out that a handheld ultrasound result is dependent on how comprehensive the technician is. That's why Kelly created a more standardized way of screening with ultrasound, called SonoCine.

"The idea of having a uniform method that's the same for every woman and that goes slow enough that you'll see the small cancers," said Kelly.

Bradley said she didn't know until recently that this technology was available and applicable to her. SonoCine takes moving pictures of various sections of the breast. On average, it takes about 3,000 images.

"We are much better at finding things that move wrong than when something is still," said Kelly.

Attai says an automated system like SonoCine has clear advantages over a handheld ultrasound device but one of the downsides is it's currently not covered by insurance, and that's a big concern for many women. One SonoCine screening costs about $300.

Both Kelly and Attai agree mammograms for women with implants are still necessary because ultrasounds can't detect calcifications, which can also be early signs of cancer. But that's a discussion a woman should have with her doctor.

"One size doesn't fit all and there are some patients that may not necessarily need it that may not necessarily benefit," said Attai.

One benefit for Bradley was that she got to hear her results right away. Her doctor told her results were normal.

Handheld ultrasounds are less expensive and usually covered by insurance. SonoCine is FDA approved as an adjunct screening to mammography for women with dense breasts and implants, as are other automatic ultrasound devices.

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