Mammograms have long been viewed as a critical step in helping doctors detect and treat breast cancer. Their use on a routine basis, in fact, has been credited with saving thousands of lives. This test, however, is not always as accurate as clinicians would like it to be, especially when women happen to have dense breast tissue. When that is the case, generally reliable mammograms become much less so. Tumors that are present may go undetected as dense tissue makes it harder to see abnormalities that might be cause for concern.
Researchers believe they have a solution to help women with dense breast tissue. Known as molecular breast imaging, or MBI for short, the test is able to more readily detect cancerous cells in dense breast tissue.
MBI involves the use of a special radioactive tracer that is able to “light up” areas of cancer growth inside the breast. Once the tracer is injected into a patient, a nuclear medicine scanner is used to take pictures of the breasts. While still under study, a number of trials have shown that MBI offers a great deal of promise. One study found the test was four times more likely to find cancer in women with dense breast tissue than mammograms.
An estimated 246,000 American women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. About 40,000 women die from this disease. Early screening tools such as mammograms have given women an edge in beating this disease by enabling detection in its first phases. While mammograms remain the gold standard in early detection, this test is not reliable for all women. The new MBI may offer hope to those who happen to have dense breast tissue.
All women are at risk for the development of breast cancer over the course of their lifetimes. With that in mind, it is strongly suggested women speak with their healthcare providers about routine screening. Mammograms are generally introduced in mid-life, but high risk factors may necessitate screening begins at younger ages.