BOARDMAN, Ohio –
Mammograms have long helped doctors detect breast cancer in patients. However, they often miss cancers found in women with dense breast tissue.
“This patient has a very fatty breast. We say it is gray or black. This woman has a very dense breast and you can see her breast tissue is very white. Breast cancers show up as white dots. So, it is very easy for us to see a white dot, even if it is a very small fatty breast. But, if you are looking for a white dot in this white background it becomes very hard,” said radiologist Dr. Richard Barr with Southwoods X-ray and Open MRI.
Which is why recent research suggests, women with dense breast tissue pair mammography screenings with either an ultrasound or a breast MRI. Dr. Barr, who served as a principal investigator in this national study, says researchers determined annual ultrasound screenings detect cancers not seen on mammography and MRIs reveal additional breast cancers missed by both mammography and ultrasounds.
“We don’t think it is going to replace mammography, but it probably will be able to, in those dense breast women, where we know mammography has a problem, help us find a significant number more cancers of a smaller size,” Dr. Barr said.
As it stands now, most insurance companies don’t cover ultrasounds and MRIs as screening tools. Dr. Barr says research, such as the results from this study, may help in getting those costs covered in the future because doctors will be better able to predict which patients are better suited for the different tests.