Researchers seek better ways to detect breast cancer - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

FOX Medical Team

Researchers seek better ways to detect breast cancer

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ATLANTA -

Lots of women who have a mammogram get called back for more testing. Often it turns out to be nothing, but research shows that the call-back experience can cause long-term psychological damage in women.

Researchers at an Atlanta cancer center are trying to find a better way to look for breast cancer.
    
At Emory's Winship Cancer Institute, ultrasound technician Tricia Harper is the person you see when there's a red flag on your breast x-ray.

Winship radiologist Dr. Carl D'orsi said those call backs for more mammograms or a breast ultrasound happen more often than you'd think.

"In this country, about 10 percent of women who undergo screening get called back for something," said D'Orsi.

Dr. D'Orsi said the good news is that more than 90 percent of the time, that red flag turns out to be nothing to worry about. They call it a "false-positive."

It happened to Tricia Harper four years ago.

"I just had my regularly yearly and when the doctors came to me, they said, ‘Tricia we see these calcifications and they look suspicious,'" said Harper.  "And at first it's denial, I'm thinking, ‘Oh, I don't have to have anything done with this, with me.' But further testing showed yeah, they look suspicious, so we set up a biopsy."

The biopsy showed the calcifications were not malignant.

Dr. D'Orsi says new technology like tomosynthesis may dramatically reduce the number of false-positives by allowing radiologists to examine breast tissue  layer by layer. They're using breast CT scanners that show the breast and tumor in incredible detail.
 
Dr. D'Orsi says breast cancer screening isn't a perfect science,  but it's a critical tool.
   
"When you look at the risk benefit, the risks are you have more pictures, you produce more anxiety, the benefit is you've saved a life when you have a diagnosis of breast cancer.  So the ratio is way, way in favor of benefit," said Dr. D'Orsi.

Harper still feels nervous, but she still gets checked every year.

"Because the earlier something is caught, the better the outcome of it," Harper said.

Breast tomosynthesis is also known as 3-D mammography. Earlier this year, a Norwegian study found that combining 3-D mammogram with a traditional 2-D mammogram increased the number of invasive breast cancers detected by 40 percent. The two used together decreased the number of false-positives by 15 percent.

Winship hopes to begin using tomosynthesis for diagnostic mammograms early next year.

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