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Dr. Carrie Morrison, St. Luke's Hospital

Adding new ultrasound exam to annual mammogram doubles the number of cancers found in women with dense breasts

Excluding non-melanoma skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women, and, according to the National Cancer Institute, 40,170 women died from breast cancer in 2009. Many of those women had dense breasts.

In fact, at least two out of five women have dense breasts. Researchers have found that breast density is often a predictor of increased risk for developing breast cancer. Women with dense breasts have a four-to-six times higher risk of developing breast cancer compared to women with less dense breasts.

This density can also make finding abnormalities in the breast difficult since both dense areas and tumors show up white on a mammogram. What can women who have dense breast tissue do? Women with dense breasts might consider adding a new exam called SonoCiné when scheduling their yearly mammograms.

SonoCiné is an automated whole breast ultrasound (AWBU) exam that, when added to an annual mammogram, may find additional and smaller cancers than mammography alone. The SonoCiné exam is also computer-guided, requires no breast compression or injections and is permanently recorded for physician review and follow-up.

A study recently published in the journal European Radiology reported the benefits of adding the SonoCiné exam to a standard mammogram. In 6,425 cases, it found that breast cancer detection doubled from 23 cancers discovered by mammography alone to 46 using AWBU along with mammography. In addition, the number of detected invasive cancers 10 millimeters or less in size tripled from 7 to 21 when AWBU findings were added to mammography. The study concluded that AWBU resulted in significant cancer detection improvement compared with mammography alone in women with dense breast tissue.

Typically, a woman is not able to determine by herself whether she has dense breasts; it is routinely evaluated based on a mammogram. If you have had a mammogram and are still unsure of the density of your breasts, ask your caregiver.

Dr. Carrie Morrison is the director of breast imaging and mammography at St. Luke's Hospital. Call 314-205-6565 or visit her Physician Referral page.

This article was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on June 17, 2010.

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