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Breast-specific gamma imaging (BSGI) is effective in the detection of cancers generally not found on mammograms or by clinical exam, according to a study presented at the 94th Scientific Assembly and Annual Meeting (November 30 – December 5, 2008) of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) in Chicago.

Breast-specific gamma imaging can help us to identify invasive lobular carcinoma, one of the most difficult to detect breast cancers,” explained lead author Rachel F. Brem, M.D., professor of radiology and director of the Breast Imaging and Interventional Center at The George Washington University Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

It also can help us detect additional lesions of all types of breast cancer in women whose mammograms show only one suspicious lesion.

According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer affects more women than any other non-skin cancer and accounts for more than 40,000 deaths annually in the U.S. Most experts agree that the best way to decrease breast cancer mortality is through early detection using mammography and clinical breast exam.

However, some cancers are difficult to detect with mammography and clinical exam, particularly in the earliest stage when treatment is most effective.While mammography findings are characterized by the difference in appearance between normal and suspicious breast tissue, breast-specific gamma imaging findings are based on how cancerous cells function.

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“It is this physiological approach to breast cancer diagnosis that allows for improved cancer detection,” Dr. Brem explained.Breast-specific gamma imaging is an emerging technology using a high-resolution gamma camera that allows for imaging with very mild compression of the breast along with an injection of a low-dose nuclear material called a radiotracer, which is absorbed by the cells. Because cancerous cells have a higher rate of metabolic activity, the tracer is taken up by these cells at a higher level than in normal cells.Dr. Brem and colleagues reviewed the records of 159 women with at least one suspicious or cancerous lesion found by mammography or physical exam, who had undergone breast-specific gamma imaging to determine if additional lesions were present.

The results showed an additional suspicious lesion missed by mammography and physical exam in 46 (29%) of the women. In 14 (36%) of the 39 women who underwent biopsy, the newly discovered lesions were cancerous. “The data suggest that this new tool allows for the diagnosis of more and earlier breast cancers,” Dr. Brem said.Dr. Brem pointed out that breast-specific gamma imaging is not meant to replace mammography, but to be used as an adjunct to mammography. “It is an excellent tool for locating difficult-to-detect cancers and for screening high-risk women who have normal mammograms and physical examination,” she said.

Breast-specific gamma imaging at a Glance:

  • An effective method of detecting hard-to-find breast cancers- Can identify cancer not visible on mammograms and not found by clinical examination- The technology is based on the metabolic activity of cancer cells
  • Click here for the abstract (Breast Specific Gamma Imaging in Women with One Suspicious or Cancerous Breast Lesion)

Last editorial review: December 5, 2008.

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