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Adding ultrasound to breast screening provides better detection for women

October 14th, 2015

Adding ultrasound to standard mammography tests in breast screening could result in improved rates of detection for breast cancer in women in Japan, according to a new study, published in The Lancet.

Researchers led by Professor Noriaki Ohuchi, from Tohoku University Graduate School of Medicine, in Japan, recruited more than 70,000 women aged between 40 and 49 to participate in the trial. Half were offered the usual mammography screening, and half were offered ultrasound testing in addition to mammography, with two screening sessions taking place over two years.

The results show that ultrasound combined with mammography resulted in correct identifications of cancer in more than 9 out of 10 cases (91% sensitivity), whereas for women given mammography alone, just over three quarters of tests correctly identified breast cancer (77% sensitivity).

Breast cancer already affects large numbers of women in Europe and the US, but rates are increasing rapidly in Japan and other Asian countries. Early detection and treatment is critically important for reducing deaths from the disease.

In Asia, breast cancer tends to present at an earlier age than in Europe or the US, and Asian women have denser breast tissue, both of which are known to reduce the accuracy of mammography.

This study is line with research funded by NBCF into early detection, breast screening and breast density, which seek better outcomes for women, especially younger women who have denser breast tissue and are more likely to be diagnosed with aggressive forms of the disease.

While previous studies have suggested that the addition of ultrasound might lead to an excessively high rate of ‘false positive’ results (where screening results falsely indicate that a cancer is present), the results from this study suggest that the difference in false positive rates between the two testing protocols was small, and could be further reduced by ensuring that mammography and ultrasound test results are analysed together.

“Our results suggest that adding ultrasound to mammography results in more accurate screening results for women in Japan, which could ultimately lead to improved treatment and reduced deaths from the disease.

“Further work will now be needed to see if these results can be extended to other countries in Asia.  In addition, long-term follow-up of these results will determine whether including ultrasound tests in breast cancer screening ultimately affects the likelihood of successful treatment and survival, as we would expect,” says Professor Ohuchi.

NBCF’s acting CEO, Jackie Coles, was interviewed about this study on Channel 9, where she provided advice for women on how to be breast aware.