The Mammogram or Ultrasound? Old vs New techniques to detect breast cancer for women with dense breasts!

As women, we’ve all been told to visit the doctor immediately, if we ever do detect any sort of lumpy formations in our breasts. It may be a false alarm, it may be something that must be looked into, but timely visits are extremely vital.

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But, if you happen to have dense breasts, your mammogram reports may not prove to be accurate. Find out how ultrasound can help with diagnosis of breast cancer for women with dense breasts.

1 Medical jargon you need to know before you read this article!

What’s a mammogram you may ask? Breaking it down for you, it is an X-ray image of your breasts, obtained by compressing them between two firm surfaces to spread out the tissue. This facilitates the early detection of breast cancer and early diagnosis helps in decreasing breast cancer related deaths.

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Ultrasonography is a diagnostic technique that employs ultrasound for imaging of internal organs including muscles, tendons, joints etc. Ultrasound imaging is a technique which involves sound waves with extremely high frequency that transcend the human audibility range.

Medical jargon you need to know before you read this article!

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So, an ultrasound machine sends out high-frequency sound waves, which then reflects off body structures. A computer then receives these sound waves and uses them to create a picture. This test is unlike an x-ray or CT scan, as it does not use ionizing radiation.

A biopsy is a sample of a tissue that is taken from the body, to be examined up close. It is used to detect any abnormality in the area of the tissue in the body like lesions, a tumor, etc.

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2 Breast cancer

Breast cancer normally begins either in the cells of the lobules, which are basically the milk-producing glands, or the ducts, the passages that drain milk from the lobules to the nipple. Breast cancer may be either invasive or non-invasive. Non-invasive cancers remain within the milk ducts and do not spread to the rest of the body, whereas, invasive cancers can grow into the normal, healthy tissues.

Invasive cancer is also known as invasive ductal carcinoma (also called infiltrating ductal carcinoma). Non-invasive cancers are sometimes also known as carcinoma in situ (in the same place) or pre-cancers.

Breast cancer

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Calcifications are accumulations of calcium salts in a body tissue. They are normally not dangerous, but may be early signs of breast cancer.

Now that you’re familiar with this medical terminology, let’s get to what we started off with saying.

3 Results of a new study

A new study suggests that women with dense breasts may use an alternate way instead of a mammogram to detect breast cancer. Since the mammogram involves spreading of the breast tissue, women with dense breasts may obtain flawed mammograms.

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The alternate method is the usage of ultrasound to generate an ultrasonograph. Since this simply involves the reflection of sound waves to capture an image, density does not matter much.

Researchers obtained data from over 2800 women with dense breasts over the United States, Canada and Argentina. Each woman had three mammograms and three ultrasonographs respectively, over a span of three years. Both tests identified about the same number of cancers, with 129 women needing an ultrasound and another 127 women needing a mammography for doctors to find one cancer.

Results of a new study

Image Source: www.oit.edu

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Mammograms were more effective in detecting non-invasive cancers and those with calcifications, whereas the ultrasound was better at detecting invasive cancers and those without calcifications.

4 Drawbacks of the alternative

Although the ultrasound was better at detecting invasive cancers, it also generated reports that were false alarms/false positives and incorrect. Although it was finding cancers that would make much more of a difference than those found with a mammogram, the mammogram beats it in terms of accuracy, hands down.

Drawbacks of the alternative

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5 Reasons ultrasound is still preferred

Biopsies can be a painful affair. 9 percent of biopsies ordered based on ultrasound findings confirmed a cancer diagnosis, compared to about 29 percent of biopsies which resulted after the positive mammograms.

But since it has the potential to detect a more invasive cancer, women are willing to take the risk of a false positive and a positive biopsy.

Reasons ultrasound is still preferred

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Advancements in technology may also mean that the breast cancer screening with ultrasound may be an acceptable alternative for women especially in developing countries, the researchers say.

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