Detecting breast cancer is of vital importance in terms of treating it early and effectively. Mammography is the gold standard in routinely screening women for breast cancer. However, in a subset of women with dense breast tissue, mammography doesn’t work as well as one would hope. In fact, it can miss up to a third of breast tumors in this type of tissue. To address this issue, GE Healthcare has developed the Invenia Automated Breast Ultrasound System (ABUS), as a supplementary screening system for women with dense breasts. The scanner uses ultrasound to detect malignant tumors and is radiation-free. The system can reportedly improve breast cancer detection in women with dense breasts by up to 55%, compared with mammography alone.
Medgadget had an opportunity to speak with Dr. Georgia Giakoumis Spear, Chief of the Department of Breast Imaging at NorthShore University Health System in Illinois, prior to her presentation at the National Consortium of Breast Centers Conference on NorthShore’s success using the ABUS detection system.
Conn Hastings, Medgadget: Can you explain why it is difficult to detect breast cancer in women with dense breasts? Roughly what percentage of women fall into this category?
Dr. Georgia Giakoumis Spear, NorthShore: Dense breast tissue limits our ability to detect breast cancer with mammography due to the masking effect. Density appears as white on a mammogram, as does breast cancer. Therefore, breast cancer can hide in dense tissue and we know that we can miss up to 1/3 of breast cancers with mammographic screening alone. Nearly half of all women screened for breast cancer have dense tissue, so the impact of this limitation can be great.
Medgadget: Is breast density routinely checked when women are screened for breast cancer?
Dr. Georgia Giakoumis Spear: Breast density is a term used by radiologists to describe the amount of fibroglandular tissue compared to fatty tissue in the breast. We describe a patient’s breast density in every mammography report.
Medgadget: Can you explain in simple terms how the ABUS technology works? How does it differ from a conventional mammogram?
Dr. Georgia Giakoumis Spear: ABUS is a painless, non-invasive, non-radiation producing technology that uses sound waves (ultrasound) to scan the breast tissue while the patient is lying on her back with her arm raised over her head. The examination is performed by a technologist in about 20 minutes using standardized scanning protocols. The images are then post processed in 3D planes and interpreted by a radiologist. A mammogram is performed using x-ray technology and two standard views of each breast are obtained for the purpose of screening for breast cancer. ABUS imaging overcomes the superimposition of breast tissue that is a limitation with mammography.
Medgadget: How long has the ABUS technology been used at NorthShore hospitals? Is it always used in conjunction with mammography?
Dr. Georgia Giakoumis Spear: NorthShore implemented ABUS 15 months ago and our results are extremely promising. Numerous mammographically occult breast cancers have been found with the addition of ABUS as a supplemental screening tool. ABUS is always performed with the gold standard for screening, mammography. The two exams are complementary and ABUS is not recommended to replace mammographic screening. Mammography is essential for screening for breast cancer, as there are findings that can alert us to early breast cancer on a mammogram, such as calcifications, that are not seen on any other imaging modality.
Medgadget: Has the ABUS technology improved breast cancer detection rates at NorthShore hospitals?
Dr. Georgia Giakoumis Spear: ABUS is showing great promise as a supplemental screening tool and our cancer detection rate has improved. We have found over 25 mammographically occult, small, invasive cancers within a year of implementing this technology. We are also noting that our recall rate is very low. These results show great promise that ABUS can make a tremendous impact on the health of the women that we screen.
Medgadget: How commonly is ABUS used in breast screening programs nationally and internationally? Are there any plans to expand the ABUS program at NorthShore hospitals?
Dr. Georgia Giakoumis Spear: ABUS is an emerging, growing technology and at this time about 180 systems are in use. Due to our success with ABUS as a supplemental screening tool, NorthShore plans to expand the ABUS supplemental screening program to better serve the large number of women affected by breast density.
Product page: Invenia ABUS…