Researchers are working on a technique that would reduce the number of women who have to have a biopsy to check for breast cancer.
The waiting period for biopsy results can be anxiety-ridden and that process isn’t any easier when there’s a possibility that the biopsy could reveal breast cancer.
However, researchers have developed an imaging technique that provides additional information about potential tumors on mammographies.
The hope is that the new technology could eliminate some uncertainty about whether or not a patient has breast cancer.
The study, published in the journal Radiology,hinges on a type of imaging process called diffusion-weighted imaging with background suppression (DWIBS).
Researchers found that with DWIBS, negative results were accurate in 92 percent of cases and the time for the test took less than seven minutes.
Eliminating a false positive means that women wouldn’t have to go on to unnecessary invasive procedures such as biopsies.
“Despite the positive aspects of breast cancer screenings, i.e., reduction in the risk of death from breast cancer … there are important harms and one of the most important ones are false-positive results that trigger invasive procedures and emotional distress in healthy women,” the study’s lead author, Dr. Sebastian Bickelhaupt, a radiologist at the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg, Germany, said in an e-mail to Healthline.
In the United States, mammograms are recommended every two years for women between the ages of 50 and 74.
Conventional mammographies have a high false-positive rate and result in unnecessary biopsies, according to the Radiological Society of North America.
The DWIBS technique could potentially reduce the number of women who have to return for additional procedures after a mammogram.
“Since screening programs affect a very high number of individuals, it is of high general public and scientific interest to improve the methods and process associated to those programs,” Bickelhaupt said.
The new imaging technique works without a contrast agent.
The imaging process first shows the shape and appearance of the lesion and then DWIBS kicks in and shows biophysiological properties by assessing the way water moves and interacts with the tissue.
Researchers tried the technique on 50 women who had suspicious mammogram screenings. Before the biopsy, the DWIBS technique was used. The process revealed that 26 of the 50 participants had a breast carcinoma, which means that 26 women would not have had to have a biopsy under the new procedure.
However, the technique needs to be further studied and refined before it is rolled out for use.
“There are larger studies with a higher number of study participants needed that confirm the results before it is ready for use,” Bickelhaupt said. “Further … we need to establish a quality assurance in diffusion weighted breast imaging to ensure a high and comparable quality of the examinations.”
Regardless of timing, this study points at a future where fewer women will have to go through the anxiety-ridden period between mammogram and biopsy results.
“To reduce the anxiety and the invasive procedures is very important since screening participants are healthy women that are suddenly being confronted with the possibility to suffer from breast cancer,” Bickelhaupt said. “This is a very substantial anxiety and although in many cases it turns out, that they are actually completely healthy, the time period can cause substantial emotional distress.”
It could be a relief, he said, for a lot of women.
“With the new approach in future it might be possible to tell many women that they don´t have to worry about a suspicious finding on the x-ray screening mammogram with a fast, non-invasive MR examination that does not even need for contrast agent application and that can be obtained in less than 10 minutes,” Bickelhaupt said.