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Can ABUS Improve Breast Cancer Detection?


Amber Nason • Oct 21, 2016

According to a study published by the June issue of the American Journal of Roentgenology, the addition of automated breast ultrasound (ABUS) to a screening mammography showed a significant increase in cancer detection.

In fact, Dr. Maryellen Giger, Professor of Radiology at the University of Chicago, says, “Our results suggest that for women with dense breast who undergo screening mammography and are told that no abnormality is found, they may want to undergo supplemental imaging, such as ABUS.”

An Automated Breast Ultrasound uses high frequency sound waves to take 3D images of the whole breast, targeting specific areas and ensuring they are displayed in a reproducible fashion. It is especially beneficial to women with dense breast tissue. A high breast density (Volpara) score can make a mammogram harder to read and ABUS allows the technologist to check the breast from a variety of angles offering more accurate interpretations. It may be recommended as a supplement to a screening mammography for women who have high risk factors for breast cancer (like a strong family history) combined with a Volpara C breast density score, and women with a Volpara D score.

ABUS a fast and almost painless procedure which can look at both breasts in about 15 minutes. 

One of the risk factors for breast cancer is dense breast tissue. The 2013 Toward Optimized Practice Breast Screening Guidelines state that the cancer risk for women with extremely dense breast tissue increases twofold, compared to women with average breast density.

Dense breasts have less fat and more glandular and connective tissue. Having “dense breasts” is a clinical diagnosis that can only be assessed by mammography. Unfortunately, it also makes a mammogram harder to read.

On a mammogram, fatty tissue looks dark, while both dense tissue and tumours look white, making them hard to detect. The white-looking breast cancers are easier to see on a mammogram when they're surrounded by dark-looking fatty tissue.

This research also suggests the possibility of customizing breast care based on a woman’s individual risk factors. With the advent of 3D mammography, such as Tomosynthesis, which views the breast in slices and provides a greater level of detail, and ABUS, there are more opportunities and technologies available for an evidence-based approach to screening regimens which would maximize the chance of finding breast cancer.

Mayfair offers Tomosynthesis at all of our mammography locations. A list of clinics that offer ABUS can be viewed here

REFERENCES article “ABUS shown to improve cancer detection in women with dense breasts – Risk Factors: Dense Breasts

Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation – Know Your Risk: Breast Density

Canadian Cancer Society – Breast Cancer Risks: Dense Breasts

Public Health Agency of Canada. (2009) Information on Mammography for Women Aged 40 and Older: A Decision Aid for Breast Cancer Screening in Canada. Chronic Disease Management Division, Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Control.

Toward Optimized Practice. (2013) Breast Cancer Screening Clinical Practice Guidelines. September.

White, J. (2000) “Breast Density and Cancer Risk: What is the Relationship?Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 92 (6): 443

Breast Health