August 1, 2008 Radiologists suspend a patient's breast in water, and then send sound waves through the water in order to image breast tissue. The device uses 256 ultrasonic sensors to assemble 50 to 70 two dimensional slices into a three dimensional image of the breast that reveals cancers larger than five millimeters in diameter.
Each year more than 18-million women get a mammogram. But up to 15% of mammograms miss tell-tale signs of cancer. Now, a new technology that's better at finding cancer and saving lives could be available.
"I was just re-diagnosed in December and this time I had a mastectomy, and it was a little bit rougher ride for me," says Judy Ballard, a breast cancer patient and survivor.
And Ballard's still at risk for it to return. But, she's getting a follow-up screening with a new technology that uses water.
"It feels like a little sauna on your breast. The water temperature is warm, it's very relaxing, it's comforting," Ballard explains.
"So far it's been able to see almost all the cancers that are above five millimeters," says Peter Littrup, M.D., radiologist at Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit, Mich.
Developed by physicists and radiologists, the new technology, called computed ultrasound risk evaluation device -- or CURE -- does not use radiation, lasts one minute and is completely pain-free.
"We can get images with a lot more information than we've currently been able to. In fact we're trying to also use this to reduce unnecessary biopsies," Dr. Littrup says. While the woman's breast is suspended in water, ultrasound sensors transmit sound waves through the water. The device measures how the sound waves travel through the breast tissue. Computer images help doctors better pinpoint cancerous tissue.
"Based on the more limited trails that we've done so far, it does in fact to appear to be more accurate than mammography," says Neb Duric, Ph.D., a physicist at Karmanos Cancer Institute.
Ballard's clinical trial scan results are being studied. Other tests show her cancer has not come back.
"I'm a strong person, my attitude was it's not going to get me," Ballard says. A positive outlook to maintain a cancer-free life.
HOW ULTRASOUND WORKS: Ultrasound is a medical imaging technique that uses high-frequency sound waves and their echoes. It is similar to how bats navigate in the dark, and the SONAR used by submarines underwater. The machine transmits high-frequency sound pulses into the body using a probe. The sound waves travel through the body and bounce off any boundaries, such as between fluid and soft tissue, tissue and bone. Some of the sound waves are reflected back to the probe, while others travel further through until they bounce off another boundary. All the reflected waves are recorded by the machine, which then calculates the distance each sound wave traveled based on how long it took the sound wave's echo to return. This data is used to form a two-dimensional image based on the distances and intensities of those echoes.
ABOUT BREAST CANCER: Breast cancer is a type of cancer in which cells in the breast become abnormal and grow and divide uncontrollably, eventually forming a mass called a tumor. Some tumors are benign, meaning that they do not invade other types of tissue, although if they become big enough, they can interfere with some bodily functions, such as the flow of blood or urine. Malignant tumors have cells that can invade nearby tissues. When a cancer "metastasizes," cells from the original tumor break off and travel to other parts of the body via the blood or lymph systems. More than 75 percent of breast cancers begin in the milk ducts within the breast. The next most common site is in the glandular tissue that makes the milk.
The American Physical Society and the American Association of Physicists in Medicine contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.
Editor's Note: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.