Laura is a young woman and mother of two. On Mother’s Day in 2015, she found a lump in one of her breasts. Laura went for an ultrasound and mammogram but both were inconclusive. She was sent to the Breast Health Centre for a biopsy and learned she had a tumour. A scheduled lumpectomy became a mastectomy because the cancer had spread.
Almost a year later, Laura had a second mastectomy. Following surgery, she developed an infection and contracted e coli. She spent several weeks in the hospital recovering.
Laura is fully recovered and facing a long life but she wonders if things could have been better. For her and the 40% of women who, like her, have denser breasts, an Automated Breast Ultrasound (ABUS) would be ideal. That’s why she’s asking you to support the purchase of an ABUS through Saskatoon City Hospital Foundation.
Radiologist Dr. Carolyn Flegg says a new Automated Breast Ultrasound (ABUS) at the Breast Health Centre is ideal for patients like her. She explains that the ABUS is ideal because it can take an image of the entire breast in just three scans. In many cases, it’s better than a mammogram or an MRI because it images tumour tissue better. It means radiologists can provide quicker, more accurate diagnoses and start effective treatment plans sooner. That’s crucial when dealing with cancer.
“With traditional ultrasound, an image is only saved when technologists push a button. That just gives a little snapshot of a small area. It’s also impossible to take pictures of every square inch of the breast.
“The ABUS paddle is approximately 15 by 15 centimetres and slightly curved to fit the breast contour. Positioned on the side of the breast, it takes a sweeping picture from top to bottom. This is repeated for the top and other side, for three scans in total,” Dr. Flegg says. “The result is a picture of the entire inside of the breast from skin to ribs with every millimetre captured. The entire breast can be scanned in six minutes.
“While mammograms are the standard screening tool across North America, there are problems,” she adds. “On a mammogram, fat tissue is grey, and gland tissue is white but a cancer is also white. For the 40 per cent of women with more gland tissue – denser breasts – mammograms are less sensitive, because you’re looking for a white cancer on a white background.”
On ultrasound, gland tissue is still white but cancers are darker, and stand out better against the background of white gland tissue.
Dr. Flegg says the ABUS may consolidate patient visits. “Currently, if a woman with dense breasts has a biopsy and it’s a cancer, often she will have an MRI on another day to look for additional cancers. If the MRI shows something suspicious, she has to come back again for an ultrasound and biopsy.
“If we could assess the entire breast with ultrasound on the day of the original biopsy, we may find additional cancers then and could biopsy all abnormal areas during one visit. This could give surgeons and patients more information more quickly, to guide their treatment decisions. It may mean that some women might not require a breast MRI at all.”