Health Team

Coupled with mammography, ultrasound finds more breast cancers

Undergoing breast ultrasound in addition to mammography can detect more cancers in high-risk women, according to a new study.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Mammography is still the best method for early detection of breast cancer, but it can still miss some tumors. Breast ultrasound in addition to mammography can detect more cancers in high-risk women, according to a new study.

Since Bonnie Ostrowski has dense breast tissue, she wanted her doctor to add ultrasound to her mammogram.

“I just felt that ultrasound would give a different view,” she said.

A mammogram, done in 2001, had not detected cancer, but her ultrasound showed an irregular mass in her left breast. It was invasive breast cancer.

“The cancers can be hidden by the normal breast tissue. It's been likened to trying to find a polar bear in a snow storm,” said Dr. Wendie Berg, a radiologist at a Lutherville, Md., outpatient center affiliated with Johns Hopkins Medical Center.

In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers looked at 2,000 women with dense breast tissue who had mammograms and ultrasound.

“We found that overall, mammography did pretty well, but it did miss a large number of cancers. Only half of the cancers present were actually seen on mammography,” Berg said.

Forty women were diagnosed with cancer. Mammography had revealed 20 of those. When ultrasound was added, 12 more cancers were discovered. Eight cancers went undetected by both mammography and ultrasound.

Mammography had an accuracy of 78 percent. Mammography plus ultrasound had an accuracy of 91 percent.

“I really do believe that the ultrasound did help save my life,” Ostrowski said.

Ostrowski's cancer was caught early. She had a lumpectomy and has been cancer free for 7 years.

The researchers say ultrasound screening is not meant to replace mammography, but is an option to help enhance it.

The researchers added that ultrasound screening increases your chance of a false-positive result, which can lead to unnecessary biopsies.

Also, ultrasound is also not always available at every breast-screening location.