Some tools under study for breast cancer screening and early detection are discussed below. More research is needed to know whether these tools may play a role in breast cancer screening for all women or certain groups of women at higher than average risk.
Molecular breast imaging (also called nuclear medicine breast imaging) uses short-term radioactive agents (called a tracer). The tracer is given by vein (through an IV) and is absorbed into tissues, including the breast.
Breast cancer cells appear to absorb more of the tracer than healthy cells. The cancer cells can then be imaged with a special camera.
Molecular breast imaging is under study for use in breast cancer screening, diagnosis and staging. Some studies are looking at the combination of molecular breast imaging and mammography for screening women with dense breasts .
A woman getting molecular breast imaging is positioned in a similar way as with mammography. Each breast is pressed between 2 plates and the machine takes images.
Breast-specific gamma imaging (BSGI) is a molecular breast imaging technique. The radioactive tracers used in BSGI emit gamma rays that are tracked by a special camera.
Positron emission mammography (PEM) is a molecular breast imaging technique. The radioactive tracers used in PEM are sugars.
PEM uses positron emission tomography (PET), a test that shows how much sugar is consumed by cells, along with a special camera to image cells. Cancer cells tend to consume more sugar than normal cells and this can help identify tumors.
A regular PET scan machine doesn’t have the special camera needed for PEM, so a special PET scan machine is needed.
A regular PET scan can't give a detailed enough image to find early stage breast cancers .
A main concern about the use of BSGI and PEM for screening is the amount of radiation exposure to the whole body. Because the radiation is delivered through an IV, other parts of the body (not just the breasts) are exposed to the radiation.
Even with modern machines, BSGI and PEM give a dose of radiation to the body that ranges from about 2 to about 21 times higher than the dose from a mammogram [83-84].
Ways to lower the amount of radiation exposure are under study .
BSGI and PEM are not part of breast cancer screening guidelines.
Although they are still under study, BSGI and PEM are used in clinical practice, but are not widely available.
Contrast-enhanced mammography (CEM) is a breast imaging technique that, compared to standard mammography, makes a stronger contrast between a breast tumor and the surrounding tissue. The image is somewhat similar to a breast MRI image.
A contrast agent is given by vein (through an IV) before the procedure. More X-ray images of the breast are taken compared to a standard mammogram, so there’s slightly more radiation exposure.
Some study findings show CEM may be useful in addition to standard mammography in women at higher than average risk of breast cancer who are not recommended for breast MRI (such as women with dense breasts) or who cannot have breast MRI [86-87].
CEM is also under study for use as a follow-up test after an abnormal finding on a standard mammogram [86-87].
CEM is not widely available at this time.
If you're interested in joining a clinical trial studying new screening methods, talk with your health care provider.
BreastCancerTrials.org in collaboration with Susan G. Komen® offers a custom matching service to help you find a clinical trial on breast cancer screening.
Learn more about clinical trials.
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At Susan G. Komen®, we are committed to saving lives by meeting the most critical needs in our communities and investing in breakthrough research to prevent and cure breast cancer. Our Research Program is an essential driving force for achieving this mission. Since our inception in 1982, Komen has provided funding to support research grants that have greatly expanded our knowledge of breast cancer and helped us understand that breast cancer is not just a single disease but many diseases, unique to each individual. Going forward, our commitment to research will contribute significantly to our ability to achieve our Bold Goal of reducing the current number of breast cancer deaths in the U.S. by 50 percent by 2026.
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Learn more about our continuing investment in research and the exciting research that we are funding, because nothing would make us happier than ending breast cancer forever.
Komen funds research looking at new methods of early detection.
One new method is breast ultrasound tomography, a tool that uses ultrasound technology. Breast ultrasound tomography may give information on breast density by measuring the speed that sound waves travel through the breast .
Komen is also funding research on the use of molecular breast imaging for screening women with dense breasts.
Learn about the latest Komen-funded research on breast ultrasound tomography, molecular breast imaging and other topics in our Stories of Discovery.
Thermography uses infrared light to measure temperature differences on the surface of the breast. Breast cancer may cause abnormal heat patterns. However, there’s no solid scientific evidence thermography measures of heat can help find breast cancers .
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the American College of Radiology and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) do not support the use of thermography as a breast screening tool [8,82,90].
In 2011 and again in 2017, the FDA issued a consumer update warning the public about misleading claims by thermography practitioners and manufacturers on the screening benefits of this tool . To read the full 2017 update, visit the FDA website.
Facts for Life: Breast Imaging Methods
Research Fast Facts: Early Detection
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