The American Society of Clinical Oncology conference, meeting in Washington, DC this weekend, will be hearing about the results of experiments with a new technology for detecting breast cancers in women with dense breasts. It is called Molecular Breast Imaging, MBI, and it employs a radioactive tracer that is absorbed more by abnormal cells than healthy cells.
According to the Associated Press, the six-year study conducted at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, showed that cancerous tumors were three times more likely to be found using the MBI method versus mammogram imaging among women with dense (fibrocystic) breast tissue.
MAYO Clinic/AP PhotoThese images show the difference between mammography results (left) and MBI results (right) on the same dense tissue breast. The tumor is invisible on the mammography, but shows clearly on the MBI image.
Radioactive tracing has been used in nuclear medicine for several years. A radioactive compound is generally injected into the body and picked up, for a brief period of time, by the area of the body that is to be studied. Once the compound is absorbed, it can be imaged by special "gamma" cameras. These images allow the radiologist to see the studied area more clearly than with X-ray alone.
The advantages of MBI, if it becomes a routine diagnostic imaging procedure, are that the technology is more accurate in detection of tumors in women with dense breasts, and it is also less expensive, costing about half as much to administer. MBI is expected also to save time and money on further diagnostic testing caused by the higher number of false positives found with mammogram imaging.
There is quite a disadvantage of MBI right now as well, as it emits 8 to 10 times more radiation than a mammogram. With newer technologies, however, that is likely to be improved.
Sources: Miami Herald/Associated Press, Sci-Tech Encyclopedia, Breast Cancer Symposium Press Release
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