New Mammography Technology Effective in Detecting Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer, Breast Cancer Awareness Ribbon, Pink.

Positron emission mammography or PEM, a new technique for imaging the breast, is not affected by either breast density or a woman?s hormonal status, two factors that limit the effectiveness of standard mammography and MRI at detecting cancer, according to a study presented during the 94th Scientific Assembly and Annual Meeting (November 30 ? December 5, 2008) of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) on Tuesday.

?The ability of positron emission mammography or PEM to detect cancer does not appear to be adversely affected by breast density, hormone replacement therapy or menopausal status,? explained the lead researcher Kathy Schilling, M.D., director of breast imaging and intervention at the Center for Breast Care at Boca Raton Community Hospital in Florida. ?The sensitivity of PEM is equal to or better than breast MRI, and PEM has fewer false-positive results.?

?Unless the MRI is performed on day seven through 14 of a woman?s cycle, reading MRI images is extremely difficult,? Dr. Schilling said. ?This is a significant problem with breast MRI.? Because hormones do not have the same effect on PEM results, Dr. Schilling believes the imaging technique could play a significant role both in preoperatively evaluating breast cancer patients and in screening high-risk patients.


…Unless the MRI is performed on day seven through 14 of a woman?s cycle, reading MRI images is extremely difficult…? This is a significant problem with breast MRI…


In the study, 208 patients with breast cancer underwent PEM, an application of high-resolution breast positron emission tomography (PET) in which a small amount of radioactive material is injected into the body to measure metabolic activity and determine the presence of disease. The researchers used a PET unit specially developed for the breast and small body parts to perform the PEM exam.

Of 189 malignant lesions imaged, PEM detected 176 for an overall sensitivity rate of 93 percent. Fifteen percent were ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), a noninvasive cancer confined to the ducts of the breast; 85 percent were invasive cancer.

PEM successfully detected cancer in 100 percent of fatty breasts, 93 percent of dense breasts, 85 percent of extremely dense breasts, 93 percent of women both with and without a history of hormone replacement therapy, 90 percent of pre-menopausal women and 94 percent of post-menopausal women.

According to Dr. Schilling, PEM is well tolerated by patients, who sit upright during the exam and are not alone or closely confined as they would be during an MRI exam. While breast MRI exams produce more than 2,000 images to be interpreted, PEM produces just 48 images that can be correlated with a woman?s mammogram.

?PEM is easier to use, easier to interpret and easier on the patients than MRI,? Dr. Shilling said. ?It is also ideal for those patients whose MRI is difficult to interpret due to hormonal influences, women with implants, patients with metal in their bodies, or patients who suffer from claustrophobia. It is exciting that we now have a functional imaging approach with high sensitivity that complements our current anatomic imaging modalities,? she added.

Positron Emission Mammography at a Glance

  • Positron emission mammography (PEM) is an effective tool for detecting breast cancer.
  • Dense breast tissue and hormonal status can hinder other breast imaging techniques.
  • PEM shows high sensitivity and is not limited by these factors.
  • PEM, also known as high-resolution breast PET, has fewer false-positive results than breast MRI.

Click here to read the abstract (Effect of Breast Density, Menopausal Status, and Hormone Use in High Resolution Positron Emission Mammography).


Last editorial review: December 5, 2008.

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