Developing Image Tech Provides More Answers for Breast Cancer

An estimated 43,780 breast cancer will occur in 2022, according to the American Cancer Society. Luckily thanks to new research in imaging, breast cancer treatment is receiving answers more than ever before.

Key takeaways:
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    Lumpectomy surgery will increase with breakthroughs in imaging technology identifying breast cancer more quickly.
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    Mammograms, ultrasound, and breast MRI remain the most common forms of detecting breast cancer, with 3D mammograms gaining prominence.
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    Developing imagery technology is on the way in various forms to increase cost efficiency and accuracy in determining breast cancer.

Recent studies supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found lumpectomy surgery to be highly effective for women with two or three breast tumors. Out of the 200 women studied, only 3% saw cancer return after receiving lumpectomies accompanied by radiation.

Lumpectomy, also known as breast-conserving surgery, is surgery to remove a breast cancer tumor and the rim of the healthy tissue surrounding it.

Lumpectomy vs. mastectomy

A mastectomy removes the entire breast while a lumpectomy removes only cancer to preserve as much of the breast as possible. However, there have been some cons to lumpectomy in the past.

These include:

  • Five to seven weeks of radiation (five days per week) are likely after surgery.
  • Slight higher risk of recurrence, which is treatable via mastectomy.
  • Breasts are unable to withstand added radiation in a recurrence of the repeating breast, this holds in any circumstance of a recurrence.

Current tests to spot breast cancer

Mammograms are low-dose x-rays that can help find breast cancer, although they happen to miss 12.5% of possible breast cancer cases. Women with dense breasts are also more likely to showcase a false negative in a mammogram. Still to this day, mammograms are the best way to find breast cancer for most women of screening age.

Ultrasound for the breast utilizes sound waves along with their echoes to make computer pictures of the breast’s inside. As opposed to mammograms, ultrasounds are more beneficial for women with dense breasts. Also, ultrasound can distinguish between fluid-filled masses like cysts and solid masses which may require further testing.

Breast MRI uses radio waves and strong magnets, creating vivid pictures of the inside of the breast. An MRI is more likely to find cancer not detectable by a mammogram but is also more likely to result in false positives. MRI technology is mostly used with women having a higher chance of obtaining breast cancer.

Breast tomosynthesis commonly referred to as three-dimensional (3D) mammography, is more advanced than the conventional standard (2D) mammogram. Each breast is compressed from two different angles while x-rays are taken like in a 2D mammogram, but 3D mammogram technology captures many low-dose x-rays while moving in a small arc around the breast. There are conflicting reports regarding 3D mammogram efficiency over 2D mammograms, with more large-scale studies currently underway.

Up-and-coming breast cancer technology

Abbreviated breast MRI has fewer images taken in a shorter duration than with a standard breast MRI and is currently being studied as a possible screening test for breast cancer, especially in women with dense breasts.

Nuclear medicine test (radionuclide imaging includes a small amount of radioactive material (known as a tracer) is injected into the blood. The tracer is more likely to collect in cancer cells. A special camera can then be used to see the tracer in the breast.

Molecular breast imaging (MBI) involves a tracer called technetium-99m sestamibi injected into the blood. Then, a unique special camera is used to see the tracer as the breast is tenderly compressed.

Positron emission tomography (PET) scans mostly use a form of radioactive sugar (FDG). PET scans occasionally occur in fear of cancer spreading throughout the body. Fluoroestradiol F-18 is a new tracer available to locate the spreading of some advanced estrogen receptor (ER)-positive breast cancers.

Positron emission mammography (PEM) brings together features of a PET scan and a mammogram. PEM utilizes the identical radioactive tracer injected into the blood as a PET scan. The breast is then gently compressed while the images are taken. PEM can detect smaller clusters of cancer cells but has the downside of exposing the whole body to radiation.

Contrast-enhanced spectral mammography (CESM) is a newer test where a contrast dye containing iodine is injected into the blood a few minutes before two sets of mammograms involving different energy levels are taken.

CESM can assist in examining places that appear abnormal on a standard mammogram or determining the severity of recently diagnosed women with breast cancer. CEM is a potential replacement for MRI for being less expensive and potentially more effective depending on pending studies.

More forms of detecting breast cancer are currently in the works. Ultimately, the faster imaging can determine if and where exactly the breast cancer is located, the more likely patients are to be cured and avoid recurrence.


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