Quick and easy tests on breasts
By ROSEMARY DESMOND
A NEW technique is available for the first time in Australia to give women an instant test for breast cancer, without the pain and anxiety of waiting for biopsy results. Using the technology called elasticity imaging, health professionals can distinguish between benign breast lumps and malignant tumours, which are firmer in consistency. Queensland Diagnostic Imaging (QDI) has tested more than 40 patients at the North West Private Hospital, on Brisbane's northside, using the Siemens ultrasound technology. One was 33-year-old Antonia Croker, who found a breast lump which was increasing in size during her third pregnancy. As a radiographer, she was keen to get the lump checked out as quickly as possible but wanted to try the new ultrasound technology. "I like the fact we can get the results on the same day and not having to send away the samples for biopsies," Ms Croker said. "The fact I don't have needles and that sort of thing is very pleasant." The lump turned out to be benign but women who wanted another check could still choose to have a biopsy, she said. A US-based expert in the detection of breast cancer, Dr Richard Barr, said the ability to visualise tissue elasticity with ultrasound was an enormous advance in the diagnosis of breast cancer. Dr Barr, professor of Radiology at Northern-Eastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine, said a US study last year showed the technique correctly identified 17 out of 17 cancerous tumours. It also identified 105 out of 106 harmless lesions when checked against biopsies of women's breast tissue. It also eliminated the need for 50 to 70 per cent of biopsies, he said. "We're hoping we will be able to significantly reduce the number of biopsies that are done on benign lesions," Dr Barr said. "We are in the process now of getting a lot of other sites around the world up and running to see if they can reproduce these results." The technology had been approved for use in the US, Australia and other countries. However, testing of more than 2000 women would continue for the next year, he said. The Siemens technology was also being expanded to ultrasound other parts of the body to test for other diseases. "One of the things we are interested in is radio frequency ablation when we stick a tumour into a needle and use heat to cook the tumour and kill it," Dr Barr said.