Cutting-edge technology can find breast cancer mammography misses

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SUN CITY WEST, Ariz. – When it comes to detecting and diagnosing breast cancer, technology is constantly improving.

One of those cutting-edge  technologies, breast-specific gamma imaging (BSGI), was recently features on “The Dr. Oz Show.” It’s only available at a handful of facilities throughout the country, including a West Valley hospital. Early detection, diagnosis and treatment are everything when it comes to beating any cancer. That includes, of course, breast cancer. That’s where BSGI comes in.

According to a study published in the Jun 2010 issue of Academic Radiology, BSGI, also called molecular breast imaging, seems to deliver results comparable to an MRI.

Doctors say it can detect lesions that are so small, they don’t show up on a traditional mammogram. The image produced by BSGI helps doctors to better differentiate between benign tissue and malignant tissue.

The patient is injected with a low-dose radioactive tracer. That tracer is absorbed into cancerous cells, which then light up on the image.

That's the biggest difference between mammography and BSGI. Mammography looks at the anatomy of the breast, which is why dense tissue can present an issue. BSGI looks at the breast physiologically, the cells themselves.

Right now there are just three BSGI Dilon 6800™ gamma cameras in the entire state of Arizona. The only one in the Phoenix-Metro area at is at Banner Dell E. Webb Medical Center’s Louisa Kellam Center for Women’s Health.

Radiologist Dr. Daniel Wright is the head of medical imaging at Banner Del E. Webb. He says BSGI is a wonderful breakthrough in physiological imaging.

BSGI can be very effective in helping doctors make a diagnosis in the 30 to 40 percent of women who have dense breast tissue. Dense tissue can make traditional mammograms extremely hard to read, which means potential problems can go undetected.

“BSGI improves accuracy in the early detection of breast cancer in patients who have hard-to-read mammograms,” he explained.

The technology is also useful both for newly diagnosed patients and high-risk women who carry the breast-cancer gene (BRCA).

Not only can BSGI be used in cases when an MRI isn’t possible – there are some physical and physiological restrictions with an MRI -- doctors say it’s more comfortable for the patient than a traditional mammogram or an MRI.

“It’s very, very low pressure so it’s not an uncomfortable experience,” Wright said.

The procedure takes about 40 minutes and can help detect cancer in early stages.

Dr. Rachel Brem, the director of breast imaging at George Washington University Medical Center, was Dr. Oz's guest. She said  traditional mammography is a wonderful tool, detecting about 85 percent of breast cancers in all women. She went on to explain that it's not a perfect test, especially not for women with dense breasts.

"We need something to help us fill the holes, the imperfections of mammography," she told Dr. Oz.

BSGI could be the tool to do exactly that, allowing doctors a potentially better look at what's happening in the breast when findings on a mammogram or ultrasound are questionable.

"Breast-specific gamma imaging can be the tool that you need to undercover the clue as to whether it's nothing or you have breast cancer," Brem said. "It helps us uncover cancers that we wouldn't see any other way."