Technology to unmask threat of breast cancer

Automated Breast Ultrasound (ABUS) machine

Automated Breast Ultrasound (ABUS) machine

Published Sep 17, 2015


Lisa Isaacs

IN A boost for the early detection of breast cancer, the first Automated Breast Ultrasound (ABUS) machine has been brought to the Western Cape.

The ABUS will significantly increase the detection of small cancers in dense breasts, said Professor Justus Apffelstaedt, associate professor at Stellenbosch University, and Head of the breast cancer unit at Tygerberg Hospital.

“Due to the younger age structure of our population, about 90 percent of our patients have dense breasts on mammography. While our cancer detection rate in these breasts with mammography and hand-held ultrasound is comparable to the best screening programs worldwide, ABUS has been shown to significantly improve the detection rate for small cancers in these breasts,” Apffelstaedt said.

The machine is valued at R2.6 million and has been installed at the Justus Apffelstaedt and Associates Multi-disciplinary Breast Health Centre in Panorama.

While mammographic screening remains the “gold standard” for early detection of breast cancer, ultrasound is conducted as a double check and is especially important with patients with dense breasts, Apffelstaedt said.

On a mammogram, dense tissue looks white, and since masses or lumps also appear white on a mammogram, a suspicious lump may be masked by the dense breast tissue.

It is for this reason that there is a global movement towards utilising ABUS technology in addition to mammography to ensure the best possibility of early detection.

In traditional, hand-held ultrasound, the probe is held by hand and advanced over the breast while the sonographer checks the image.

The probe is moved automatically at a constant speed over the breast, while images are constantly recorded. Post-acquisition image manipulation is possible with ABUS – such as three-dimensional reconstructions and rotations.

Checking images of the entire breast can be performed at a later stage as image acquisition and interpretations are separated, enabling review of images by several readers.

These features greatly enhance the detection of small lesions especially in dense breasts, he said.

“As the technology is still very expensive, ABUS is likely to remain in the arena of specialised private breast health practices for now, but the hope is that its price will decrease, making it more accessible to all health-care services.”

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