New breast check a far com­fier op­tion

Ul­tra­sound could rev­o­lu­tionise di­ag­no­sis

The Star Early Edition - - HEALTH - DAILY MAIL

FOR AL­MOST 30 years, the mam­mo­gram has been re­garded as the gold stan­dard for breast cancer screen­ing, but now sci­en­tists are to test a new op­tion that may be more ac­cu­rate and less un­com­fort­able.

While cred­ited with sav­ing 1 300 lives each year in the UK, the mam­mo­gram is not with­out its draw­backs.

First, as it is an X-ray it means the checks are nor­mally lim­ited to one ev­ery three years due to con­cerns about ra­di­a­tion ex­po­sure.

It’s also no­to­ri­ously un­com­fort­able, in­volv­ing the breast be­ing squeezed be­tween two X-ray plates.

Its im­age is not crys­tal-clear and this can lead to false pos­i­tives, mean­ing women are sent for need­less biop­sies.

Fur­ther­more, re­search pre­sented at the Euro­pean Breast Cancer Con­fer­ence ear­lier this year sug­gested that mam­mo­grams miss tu­mours in as many as one in six cases.

Missed di­ag­no­sis is a par­tic­u­lar is­sue for the one in four women with dense (more fi­brous) breast tis­sue as this is harder for the X-ray to pen­e­trate.

These are mainly younger women, as af­ter menopause much of the dense tis­sue (needed for milk pro­duc­tion) turns to fat, which is less dense.

Now gov­ern­ment-backed sci­en­tists are test­ing a new pain-free way to screen for breast cancer that in­volves a form of ul­tra­sound ad­min­is­tered while the breast is sus­pended in a bath of warm wa­ter – it is hoped this will give such clear im­ages it may be able to de­tect cancer early, even in women with dense breast tis­sue.

To have the test, the woman lies face down on a spe­cial table with open­ings for the breast to rest in warm wa­ter. The wa­ter helps the ul­tra­sound waves travel. The ul­tra­sound con­sists of 14 beams that pro­duce an im­age sim­i­lar to a more so­phis­ti­cated MRI im­age.

The read­ings can be colour-coded to present a map of char­ac­ter­is­tics, in­clud­ing healthy or dis­eased tis­sue.

The test is be­ing de­signed to be used at GP surg­eries, do­ing away with the need for hospi­tal vis­its and women could have it mul­ti­ple times, as ul­tra­sound has an ex­cel­lent safety record.

The new test is be­ing de­vel­oped by the gov­ern­ment-owned Na­tional Phys­i­cal Lab­o­ra­tory, London, and is about to be tri­alled on 20 to 30 vol­un­teers.

Some will have the new test, oth­ers stan­dard mam­mog­ra­phy and ul­tra­sound. Re­sults will be com­pared af­ter five months.

Mark Hod­nett, a se­nior re­search sci­en­tist who is part of the team de­vel­op­ing the new warm bath test, says it has the po­ten­tial to be a “rev­o­lu­tion” in di­ag­nos­ing breast cancer.

“The preva­lence of cancer in young women is grow­ing, but the mam­mo­gram is less able to pick up cancer in younger peo­ple, whereas ul­tra­sound has the po­ten­tial to give ac­cu­rate im­ages with­out ex­po­sure to ra­di­a­tion,” he said.

The NPL team be­lieve the ul­tra­sound ap­proach will vastly im­prove scan im­age qual­ity and make di­ag­no­sis more uni­form, rather than re­ly­ing on a clin­i­cian’s judge­ment of a scan.

Dr Emma Pen­nery, clin­i­cal di­rec­tor of the char­ity Breast Cancer Care said: “The fu­ture prospect of a screen­ing tech­nique that could re­duce the num­ber of breast cancer false alarms is ex­cit­ing.

“It needs rig­or­ous test­ing to en­sure it is safe and can pick up breast can­cers pre­cisely.

“At the mo­ment, breast screen­ing with mam­mo­grams re­mains the best way to de­tect cancer at the ear­li­est pos­si­ble stage.”

PIC­TURE: NA­TIONAL CANCER IN­STI­TUTE/ REUTERS

DRAW­BACK: A tech­ni­cian po­si­tions a woman to re­ceive a mam­mo­gram.

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