About 40 percent of women having mammograms have dense breast tissue that not only increases their risk of breast cancer but can also obscure tumors from view in a mammogram.
Now the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the first ultrasound device to give doctors a more detailed image of this kind of breast tissue.
The newly approved "somo-v Automated Breast Ultrasound System (ABUS) can automatically scan the entire breast in about one minute to produce several images for review," the FDA said in an announcement Tuesday.
Ultrasounds and MRIs are much more effective at spotting breast cancer in women with dense breasts, the Wall Street Journal reported last month in an article on the "Are You Dense?" campaign. Studies have shown that per 1,000 women with dense breasts, ultrasounds find three to four additional cancers that mammograms miss.
Dense breasts have a high amount of connective and glandular tissue, as opposed to breasts with less dense, fatty tissue.
In dense breasts, both the glandular tissue and cancerous tumors can appear as solid white areas on a mammogram, making a small tumor hard to detect, the FDA explained. Mammograms use x-ray technology, while ultrasounds use sound waves, which can detect small masses in dense breasts.
The agency said the ABUS ultrasound is approved for women who have not had previous breast surgery or a biopsy, "since this might alter the appearance of breast tissue in an ultrasound image."
Although research has shown that breast density does decrease somewhat with age, a Swedish study in March found that women ages 50 or older with dense breasts had nearly double the risk of their cancer recurring.
Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women, according to the FDA. This year an estimated 226,870 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and 39,510 will die from the disease.
In other health news:
Swedish doctors announce first mother-daughter uterus transplants. Two Swedish women, in their 30s, are hoping to get pregnant after undergoing what doctors are calling the world's first mother-to-daughter uterus transplants, the Associated Press reported. One of the unidentified women had her uterus removed many years ago because of cervical cancer, while the other was born without a womb.
Smoking and drinking tied to earlier-onset pancreatic cancer. Reuters reports on a new study that suggests that people who smoke or drink heavily may develop pancreatic cancer at an earlier age than folks who avoid those habits.
Photo: Courtesy U-Systems, Inc.