New Breast Cancer Screening Exam in Development (dateline January 14, 2002) | Breast Health News | Imaginis - The Women's Health & Wellness Resource Network

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New Breast Cancer Screening Exam in Development (dateline January 14, 2002)

Image courtesy of TechniScan, Inc.

A new breast cancer screening exam called SafeScan is currently being developed using a combination of digital imaging and ultrasound technology to produce enhanced images of the breast. Though the exam has not yet received approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), its manufacturer says SafeScan will have the ability to improve visualization of breast tissue without the need for breast compression (as mammography requires). Though SafeScan is not likely to replace mammography, the gold standard in breast cancer detection, it may be useful as a supplement to help find early breast cancers.

SafeScan is being developed by TechniScan, Inc. (TSI), a Utah-based technology company. According to TSI, the SafeScan system is intended to produce digital, or computerized, ultrasound images of the breast similar to the way "digital mammography" computerizes standard mammography film images. The digital images can then be viewed, stored, or manipulated on a computer monitor.

Breast ultrasound has been routinely used for years by physicians to help detect or diagnose breast cancer in patients whose mammogram or physical breast exam reveals a potential abnormality. Ultrasound works by transmitting high frequency waves from a hand-held transducer through the breast. The sound waves echo off the breast, are picked up by the transducer, and then translated by a computer into an image that is displayed on a computer monitor.

The SafeScan works using a "clinical reflection ultrasound scanner" with the addition of digital technology. Once images of the breast are created using ultrasound and reflection tomography (a technology that produces sectional slices of the breast similar to an MRI), the images are displayed on a computer workstation where they can be viewed or modified by the radiologist to enhance visualization. The digital images may then be printed out in hard-copy form or stored on the computer in soft-copy form. With digital imaging technology, physicians can also transmit a patient’s images over phone lines or a network for remote consultation with other physicians.

TSI, the manufacturer of the SafeScan, believes the exam has the potential to offer several benefits, including:

  • Three-dimensional color images of the breast
  • No breast compression
  • Improved image accuracy with the use of digital analysis
  • No x-ray radiation
  • A reduction in operator error
  • Possible improved image visualization in patients with dense breast tissue

Though SafeScan has the potential to offer such features to patients as no x-ray radiation or breast compression, the exam will not replace mammography. Several clinical studies over the past two decades have found that mammography is the most effective method of detecting breast cancer. Mammography can detect breast cancer years before a lump can be felt, greatly increasingly the chances of successful cancer treatment and survival.

While standard breast ultrasound has excellent contrast resolution and is a useful supplement to mammography, ultrasound does not have good spatial resolution like mammography, and therefore cannot provide as much detail as a mammogram image. Ultrasound is also unable to image microcalcifications, tiny calcium deposits that are often the first indication of breast cancer. For these and other reasons, ultrasound is not used as a screening tool for breast cancer. Instead, it is a helpful diagnostic tool to be used after a breast abnormality has been found with mammography or a physical examination.

If clinical trials show that the SafeScan can effectively detect breast cancer (similar to the way ultrasound can), it will likely to used similarly to the way ultrasound is used today: as a supplement to mammography.

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