Handheld breast ultrasound is a common technique used in breast cancer diagnosis.
Recent research in the USA has shown that in dense breasts, the sensitivity (percentage of true positives) increases from 50% to 78% when hand-held breast ultrasound is added as an adjunct to digital mammography in breast screening (Berg et al., 2008). In a recent European study, it was reported that, independent of breast density, the use of an ultrasound machine in addition to an X-ray machine yielded the detection of an extra 13% breast cancers (Schaefer et al., 2010).
One of the drawbacks of using hand-held ultrasound machines is that the quality and repeatability of the images are highly dependent on the skill of the operator (see accompanying image of a hand-held probe). A promising technique that eliminates operator dependency is known as automated breast ultrasound and it produces 3D images that have great potential in breast screening. A recent report suggests that automated breast ultrasound plus digital mammography can double the detection rate in breast cancer diagnosis (Kelly et al., 2010).
- Berg WA, Blume JD, Cormack JB, Mendelson EB, Lehrer D, Böhm-Vélez M, Pisana ED, Jong RA, Evans WP, Morton MJ, Mahoney MC, Larsen LH, Barr RG, Farria DM, Marques HS, Boparai K for the ACRIN6666 Investigators (2008). Combined screening with ultrasound and mammography vs mammography alone in women at elevated risk of breast cancer. Journal of the American Medical Association. 299(18): 2151-2163.
- Schaefer FKW, Waldmann A, Katalinic A, Wefelnberg C, Heller M, Jonat W and Schreer I (2010). Influence of additional breast ultrasound on cancer detection in a cohort study for quality assurance in breast diagnosis - analysis of 102,577 diagnostic procedures. European Radiology. 20(5): 1085-1092.
- Kelly KM, Dean J, Lee SJ and Comulada WS (2010). Breast cancer detection using automated whole breast ultrasound and mammography in radiographically dense breasts. European Radiology. 20(5): 2557-2564.