Screening Breast Ultrasound
Oct 01, 2018 09:13AM
By Thomas Hudson, MD
Greenpoint Thermography is proud to announce the addition of breast ultrasound to its line of comprehensive thermography services. Breast ultrasound, previously used exclusively for diagnostic purposes in women with breast pain or a lump, is fast becoming a popular supplemental breast screening tool because of the decreased effectiveness of mammography in women with dense tissue. This is a major issue, since roughly half of the female population fits into this category, which includes a disproportionately high percentage of women under 50. Studies show a 30 to 40 percent increase in cancer detection rates in women who add screening breast ultrasound to routine mammography.
Breast ultrasound is safe as well as effective. Images are produced in a similar manner to sonar, with sound waves introduced into the breast through a transducer, which then ‘listens’ to the reverberations when they are reflected back by the tissue. The information is then sent to a computer which creates an accurate picture of breast anatomy, based on the different reflective properties of the tissues. Normal breast tissue reflects the sound waves differently than a vascular structure, which is different than a benign cyst, which is different than a cancer.
A major advantage of ultrasound is that, unlike mammography, it is completely unaffected by breast density, which means cancers cannot ‘hide’ in dense tissue like they can on a mammogram. It is not at all unusual for cancers to be invisible on a mammogram yet be quite easily seen with ultrasound. Breast compression is not needed and there is no ionizing radiation. There are no known side effects and no tissue damage at the frequency level used for breast ultrasound.
Breast ultrasound has traditionally been used as an adjunctive test along with mammography for the simple reason that (like any imaging test) it has limitations—chiefly, that it can rarely visualize calcifications—a hallmark of some early breast cancers. This is particularly true of ductal carcinoma-in situ (DCIS) which can be clearly seen on a mammogram though usually not visible sonographically. Breast ultrasound, though quite sensitive, is also often non-specific, meaning that it ‘sees’ a lot of things but often doesn’t know what those ‘things’ are, resulting in a somewhat higher rate of biopsies to rule out malignancy. Despite its drawbacks, however, breast ultrasound offers some clear advantages, as indicated by the 30 to 40 percent improved cancer detection rate over mammography alone (in women with dense tissue).
At the present time, most mammography centers will not perform a breast ultrasound without a mammogram since this is not currently considered the medical standard. This is slowly changing, however, especially since many women now decline mammography altogether.
For women who choose thermographic screening, breast ultrasound is also an excellent adjunct as it provides detailed anatomic information missing in thermography. Thermography is strictly a test of physiology, measuring skin temperature only; it doesn’t ‘see’ internal breast pathology but only thermal skin changes associated with that pathology. For any suspicious thermal finding, a follow-up anatomic test is needed for further evaluation. A good analogy of the difference would be a car engine that begins to overheat. The temperature gauge on your dashboard (analogous to a thermogram) is exquisitely sensitive and gives more than adequate warning of a developing problem, but at some point, if you’re going to figure out what the problem is, you’re going to have to actually look under the hood, which is what ultrasound does.
While Greenpoint Thermography does not recommend screening breast ultrasound without an accompanying mammogram, we do recognize the ongoing controversy over mammography and understand that many women simply choose not to have them. We feel that the addition of breast ultrasound will be a valuable adjunct to the wide range of thermography services already offered.
As is the case with all thermograms performed at Greenpoint, every breast ultrasound will be interpreted by a board certified radiologist with extensive experience in conventional medical breast imaging (mammography, ultrasound, breast MRI, molecular imaging, etc.). Our radiologists are also available for consultations if needed.
Dr. Thomas Hudson, a diagnostic radiologist specializing in breast imaging, is an owner and interpreting thermologist at Greenpoint Thermography, providing mobile thermography services to the Tampa Bay area. He is the author of Journey to Hope, an empowering book focusing on wellness and prevention. For more information and/or to schedule an appointment, call 727-576-0100, email [email protected] or visit GreenpointThermography.com. See ad below.