Wednesday, October 29, 2008

When Mammograms Aren’t Enough: New Innovations Help Catch Breast Cancer Early

(ARA) - Following a false diagnosis of stomach cancer, it took five years of countless doctors, tests and hospital visits before Barbara Robertson was accurately diagnosed with breast cancer. Despite annual mammograms, her breast cancer had gone undetected until an MRI finally found that the cancer in her stomach was actually mimicking a primary tumor in her breast.

“Not knowing what is wrong with your body is a scary thing,” Robertson remembers. “Thankfully, the root of the problem was found through MRI and I am now undergoing appropriate treatment.”

Although annual mammograms are strongly recommended and are often the best way to detect breast cancer, additional screening methods may sometimes be necessary, especially for women with dense breast tissue, family history or other risk factors. The good news is that recent innovations in medical imaging are making it increasingly easier for doctors to detect and diagnose cancers like Robertson's at an earlier stage, which is often the key to long-term survival.

“Thanks to increased testing, innovations and greater awareness of screening, breast cancer is not only being caught at earlier stages more often, but its detection and treatment is now also less painful and less invasive for the patient,” says Kay Wissmann from the Breast Cancer Network of Strength. “This was not possible several years ago.”

To take full advantage of the benefits of medical imaging, patients need to know their options and talk with their doctor to ensure that the appropriate tests are used at the right time.

A few of the most recent, major innovations in imaging for breast cancer that all women should be familiar with include:

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) uses magnets and radio waves instead of x-rays to produce very detailed, cross-sectional images of the body, and can be used to look specifically at the breast. Higher quality images are produced by dedicated breast MRI equipment than by machines designed for head, chest, or abdominal MRI scanning. For certain women at high risk for breast cancer, MRI is recommended along with a yearly mammogram, according to the American Cancer Society.

Digital Mammography is similar to standard mammography, but images of the breast are captured electronically and viewed on a computer screen, rather than through x-ray (as in a standard mammogram). The magnification, brightness, or contrast can be changed to help the doctor see certain areas more clearly. While many centers do not offer the digital option at this time, it is expected to become more widely available in the future. A recent study from the National Cancer Institute found that digital mammography was more accurate in finding cancers in women younger than 50 and in women with dense breast tissue.

Molecular Breast Imaging (MBI) begins with an injection of a short-acting, “radioactive tracer” that travels through the body and highlights cancer cells, detected by cameras, that mammograms often miss. MBI serves as a complementary form of detection for higher risk women, and tends to show fewer “false positives” than mammograms, meaning fewer women have to undergo unnecessary biopsies. Recently, a study at the Mayo Clinic concluded that MBI found three times more breast cancers than mammography in a test group of women. A similar study has been conducted by George Washington University, finding that MBI has high sensitivity in detecting breast cancers.

For more information on these and other life-saving tests visit MedicalImaging.org, MayoClinic.org, Cancer.org or NetworkofStrength.org.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

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