New screenings for women with dense breast tissue


by TERRI GRUCA / KVUE News and Photojournalist John Gusky

Posted on September 19, 2012 at 7:57 AM

For years women have relied on mammograms to pinpoint breast cancer. However for women with dense breast tissue, it's not always that easy.

Now there's new imaging technology called Molecular Breast Imaging, or MBI, and for the first time women in Central Texas can get the life saving screenings.

"It's very exciting," said Dr. Sarah Avery, M.D., a radiologist at Austin Radiological Association or ARA.

Dr. Avery is a fellowship-trained breast imager and board certified diagnostic radiologist who has been reading mammograms for 13 years. She said MBI technology can mean the difference between life and death.

“We can detect three to four times more breast cancers compared to a conventional mammogram," said Dr. Avery.

On a traditional mammogram radiologists look for a mass, which typically shows up white. The problem is women with dense breast tissue have a lot of white spots. So traditional mammograms can miss the cancer.

With MBI, women are injected with a low dose radiopharmaceutical, and then placed into a machine similar to a mammogram. The procedure is less invasive than traditional mammography because the breast does not have to be compressed as far. Four images are taken and each takes about 10 minutes.

To the untrained eye the image doesn't look nearly as detailed as traditional mammogram, but the dye collects in rapidly multiplying cells, which often signal cancer. A clean reading would just look gray. One with potential cancer would have visible white spots.

"I would love to save women the experience I had," said Amy Valentine.        

Valentine is a wife and mother of two young children, and a three-year breast cancer survivor, who underwent grueling treatments for her stage three breast cancer.

"I wish it had been around five years ago because it could have very easily detected my cancer before I detected it," she said. 

As we all know, early detection saves lives when it comes to breast cancer.

"I think it's going to make a tremendous difference for women who can benefit from this type of examination such as those with dense breast tissue and risk factors for breast cancer," said Dr. Avery.

How to know if you have dense breast tissue:

The only way to know if you have dense breast tissue is for a doctor to tell you once you have a mammogram. 

A recent poll found 92 percent of women do not know their own breast density and only about one in 10 learn about it from their doctor. 

Texas is one of only five states with laws that require doctors to share this information with their patients.

Henda’s Law requires that as of January 2012, mammography facilities inform women with dense breast tissue that the tissue could hide some abnormalities on mammography. Women should also be advised to talk with their physician about whether she would benefit from additional imaging technology like MRI, MBI or ultrasound.

You can go here to learn more about all of these additional breast screenings.      

MBI costs about half as much as MRI, however, many insurance companies are not yet covering it. A doctor must order this test.

Questions to ask your doctor:

  • Do I have dense breast tissue?
  • If so, how do you know?
  • How is breast density measured?
  • What other factors might affect my breast density?
  • What can I do to lower my risk of getting breast cancer?
  • What screening tests should I get and how often should I have them?
  • If my family members have dense breasts, will I have dense breasts too?