New technology helps screen for breast cancer

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LOS ANGELES More than 40-percent of women in the United States have dense breast tissue which can often mask potential cancers on a mammogram. Now doctors in Southern California are testing a new technology that could help pick up these cancers.

Stacey Herkert has a family history of breast cancer, so she makes sure to get a mammogram every year. "When my mom was diagnosed she made us promise to go annually for checkups, and we do," Herkert said.

Like many women, the 54-year-old has dense breast tissue which can make screening for breast cancer challenging. "Women with dense breast tissue have more white glandular tissue on the mammogram so, the background appears white. The problem is breast cancer also appears white on the mammogram, so it's more difficult to find a small white cancer on a white background," said Mary Yamashita, a professor of radiology a the University of Southern California.

Herkert is taking part in a study at the USC testing a new three-dimensional ultrasound called SoftVue, to try to help doctors more accurately identify cancer tissue. The patient lies on their stomach and the breast is placed into a warm water bath. In two to four minutes, the machine scans the entire breast using sound waves. There's no radiation and no compression of the breast. "There's no radiation exposure, there's no compression of the breast," Yamashita said.

Researchers are enrolling 10,000 patients for the study at eight sites across the country, including USC. Researchers are comparing patients' mammmography results to the SoftVue scans to learn the machine's effectiveness. "No exam is 100-percent, but we want to be as close to 100-percent as possible," Yamashita said.

"I'm hoping it will be just another thing I do every year as a precautionary measure, to make sure I don't end up like my mom and end up having breast cancer," Herkert said.

If the technology is proven to be effective, it could eventually be used in addition to annual mammograms.

The study will be submitted to the FDA for approval. Researchers are still looking for participants for the nationwide study. For other research sites click here.