A small study found that a type of three-dimensional (3-D) ultrasound picture of the breast can help doctors decide if a breast mass is cancer or not. The 3-D ultrasound method is called speed-weighted 3-D power Doppler and it shows blood flow in and around a breast tumor.
If a mass is found in your breast, your doctor usually will recommend a biopsy to figure out whether the mass is cancer or a non-cancerous abnormality. In some cases, the biopsy is done before any surgery is planned. In other cases, the biopsy is done during surgery and results are used to guide the type and extent of the surgery. If doctors had a very reliable non-surgical way to determine if a mass were cancer or not, some biopsies could be avoided.
In this study, 78 women who had a breast mass were scheduled to have a biopsy to figure out if the mass were cancer. Before any biopsies were done, each woman had a speed-weighted 3-D power Doppler of the breast area. The researchers decided if a mass were cancer based on how fast blood was flowing through the blood vessels in the mass. Breast masses with the fastest blood flow were classified as cancer. Masses with slower blood flow were classified as benign (non-cancerous). Then the researchers compared their classification of the masses based on speed-weighted 3-D power Doppler to classification of the masses based on the biopsy.
Thirty-two breast masses were cancer. All 32 masses that were classified as cancer based on biopsy also were classified as cancer based on the speed-weighted 3-D power Doppler results. So in this small study, speed-weighted 3-D power Doppler was perfect at identifying cancer when it was present.
Forty-six breast masses were benign. Of these 46 masses, 86% that were classified as benign based on biopsy also were classified as benign based on speed-weighted 3-D power Doppler. Speed-weighted 3-D power Doppler suggested that 14% of the masses were cancer but biopsy proved that that the masses weren't cancer. So speed-weighted 3-D power Doppler was very good but not perfect at identifying masses that weren't cancer.
Because speed-weighted 3-D power Doppler didn't misclassify any cancers, some day it may allow doctors to avoid biopsies or surgery in some women. Still, this is a small, early study and more research is needed before doctors can know for sure that speed-weighted 3-D power Doppler is completely reliable.
Stay tuned to Breastcancer.org for the latest research findings on new, better ways to prevent, diagnose, and treat breast cancer.