Molecular Breast Imaging Finds Lesions Mammogram Misses in Newly Diagnosed Women

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When breast cancer is diagnosed, doctors usually perform other tests to figure out exactly how large the cancer is, as well as whether the tumor has spread. You and your doctor will use this important information to decide on the best treatment for your unique situation. A study found that an imaging technique called breast specific gamma imaging can help doctors identify cancer lesions weren't seen on the original mammogram.

Breast specific gamma imaging also is known as molecular breast imaging, Miraluma, sestamibi, or scintimammography. A small amount of the molecule sestamibi that has been tagged with a radioactive substance (technetium 99) is injected intravenously. Breast cancer cells tend to take up the tagged sestamibi molecule much more than normal cells. A nuclear medicine scanner -- also called a gamma camera -- then scans the breast and looks for any areas where the radioactive substance is concentrated, suggesting breast cancer.

About 160 women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer with a biopsy participated in this study. All the women had breast specific gamma imaging after the biopsy but before any treatment was planned or started. The breast specific gamma imaging was to look for signs of any cancer besides what was identified in mammograms.

The breast specific gamma imaging found 56 other breast abnormalities that weren't in the mammograms. Biopsies were done on 45 of the abnormalities and 14 of them were found to be cancer. Nine of these new, additional cancers were in the same breast as the original cancer and five were in the opposite breast. Half of these cancers were very small (less than 1 centimeter), so it's not surprising these cancers weren't seen on the mammograms.

If you've just been diagnosed with breast cancer, you'll understandably want your treatment to begin right away. Still, getting all the information you can about your specific situation BEFORE treatment starts is the best way to make sure that the decisions you and your doctors make are the very best for your situation. Breast specific gamma imaging is becoming somewhat more available, but it's not available everywhere yet. Your doctor may recommend other imaging techniques -- such as MRI or ultrasound -- after breast cancer is first diagnosed, but before the treatment plan is finalized. Waiting for more test results may make you more anxious, but in the long run that additional information will give you and your doctor confidence that your treatment decisions were well-informed and are the best for YOU.

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