New breast cancer screening technology can reduce unnecessary biopsies, detection errors

The medical director of Eleanor and Randall Breast Center in Pasadena helps guide hundreds of women through mammography every month.

"We know it's anxiety-provoking and what we want is for women to do what's best for them and for their health and we know that diagnosing early is what's best for women. Women do better when they're diagnosed early," said Dr. Lakshmi Tegulapalle, a radiologist at Huntington Hospital.

New technology like the 3D mammography are improving cancer detection rates. Yet when a doctor calls because they think they've found something, it can be terrifying.

"Many women are recalled unnecessarily, which causes anxiety. Do I have cancer or not?" said Karen Drukker, PhD, MBA, Research Associate Professor at the University of Chicago.

An abnormal finding on the mammogram can lead to a biopsy, which can be invasive. A majority of the time, the finding turns out to be benign. That's why researchers are studying a new technique called three-compartment breast imaging, or 3CB.

"That is imaging, X-ray imaging that uses X-rays of multiple energies so that you can characterize the tumor and tissue," said Maryellen Giger, PhD, Professor of Radiology at the University of Chicago.

"It can measure the three compartments of breast tissue, which are water, lipid and protein," Drukker explained.

By measuring these components and using an artificial intelligence method developed by Professor Giger called mammography radiomics, the team can find different digital characteristics to help distinguish a cancerous tumor from a non-cancerous one. They tested this technique on more than 100 patient mammograms.

Drukker said, "We were able to reduce the number of biopsies by about 30 percent."

While also increasing the ability to predict cancer from 32 percent to 50 percent compared to visual interpretation alone. An added benefit is that this technique is not invasive. The team is able to get all this extra information with only a 10 percent additional dose of radiation during the mammogram.

Tegulapalle said new technologies are improving detection all the time. In the meantime women should get screened every year starting at age 40.

"Try to pick a center where you're comfortable. Take a family member or friend with you if that helps reduce some of your anxiety. And talk to us," she said, "If it's something that is really anxiety-provoking for you. Our nurses, our technologists and our staff are here for that very reason."

Further testing still needs to be done before this technique can be available to patients. The next step for the team is to study the technique on 3D mammograms.
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