New imaging technology helps detect breast cancer early

October 09, 2019 | by Christine Gresik, MD

Early detection of any type of cancer is perhaps the most significant step in successfully treating the disease. Thanks to the consistent development of new breast imaging technology, the ability to detect breast cancer early has made significant strides in recent years.

A mammogram is widely considered the most effective method in detecting breast cancer early. It can help detect breast cancer before physical symptoms develop by locating tumors that are too small or too deep to be found by self-examination. 3D mammography helps radiologists identify and characterize individual breast structures without the confusion of overlapping tissue, an advantage for women with dense breasts.

Sometimes mammography is used alongside other tests to increase the likelihood of detecting breast cancer. Some other breast imaging tools that can provide crucial and reliable feedback include:

  • Breast ultrasound. Whether it is lumps, changes in density or changes that cannot be viewed on a mammogram, a breast ultrasound is used to detect suspicious changes in the breasts. For women with dense breasts, automated whole-breast ultrasound (AWBUS) is a supplementary ultrasound examination of both breasts that can detect small cancers that mammography may miss.
  • Breast MRI. Through the use of radio waves and magnets, breast MRI provides a detailed picture inside the breast. Though this services is typically used for patients already diagnosed, it can be helpful in detecting tumors as well and may be a recommended adjunctive screening tool for patients with a family history of breast cancer.
  • Image-guided breast biopsy. Imaging technology allows precise positioning of a needle to remove a sample of suspicious breast tissue discovered in a mammogram. Different biopsy techniques include stereotactic breast biopsy, MRI-guided core needle biopsy and others.

Some individuals might require services and technology that are more advanced. New breast cancer imaging technologies that are being made available in the fight against cancer include:

  • Optical imaging tests. This new test is radiation-free and does not require breast compression. Instead, an optical imaging test passes a certain amount of light through the breasts and determines your results by how much light returns.
  • Molecular breast imaging (MBI). MBI is one of the more recent developments in breast cancer imaging technology. It uses nuclear medicine to differentiate cancerous cells from normal cells. MBI can dramatically increase detection and survivorship rates, by providing information that a mammogram and classic imaging services cannot. 
  • Positron emission mammography (PEM). Much like MBI, PEM is better able to detect smaller groups of cancer cells in your breast by injecting your blood with a sugar and radioactive particle.
  • Electrical impedance imaging (EIT). It is believed that cancer conducts electricity differently than ordinary cells. An EIT imaging test passes a small electrical current through the breasts to detect the cancer on your skin. Instead of compression or the use of radiation, an EIT attaches electrodes to your skin to gather its results.

Doctors often use these imaging tools to catch cancer early, stage the disease and during follow-up visits to make sure the cancer hasn’t spread.

Early detection is the first step in the battle against cancer, but it is not the last. Make sure to keep a consistent dialogue with your doctor and make all of your follow-up visits to increase your chances of successful treatment.

Prevention is powerful medicine. At Edward-Elmhurst Health, we provide the latest screening and diagnostic tools to detect cancer early, when it’s most treatable. Learn more about our cancer screenings.

Learn more about breast health at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Edward-Elmhurst Health offers no-referral mammograms that you can schedule online.

Learn more about mammograms.

Schedule your annual screening mammogram today.

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