Ultrasound Tests Can Help Detect Cancer in Dense Breasts - 8 News NOW

Ultrasound Tests Can Help Detect Cancer in Dense Breasts

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This is Buddy Check 8 Day, when we remind women to do a self-exam. We also have important news about breast cancer detection.

If you've never had a mammogram, or if you're a man, you might not know that breasts can be "dense." Researchers say women with dense breasts can benefit from having an ultrasound exam.

Eye on Health spoke with a local breast cancer specialist and a patient.

Dense breasts have less fatty tissue than average breasts, which means nothing -- except to a radiologist. The density makes it harder to read a mammogram, and that's an issue.

Now a new study has compiled data from 21 medical institutions and found that an ultrasound exam, or a "sonogram," can be a useful addition to a mammogram for patients with dense breasts.

"You could feel the lump and so it was very definite. But I understand on the mammogram, it wasn't -- it didn't show through," said Las Vegas resident, Sue Christensen.

She found a lump quite by accident. Her dog nudged her awake one night. She felt something odd, and that's when she found the lump. In Sue's case, a mammogram did not give a clear indication, so she was given an ultrasound exam. It was cancer.

"I feel I couldn't have been in a better place and time in my life to have gone through this," she said.

Dr. Mary Ann Allison is an oncologist, with Comprehensive Cancer Centers of Nevada. She says the ultrasound does not replace the mammogram but is a useful complement for patients like Sue, because she has dense breasts.

"It's not as evident on the mammogram that there could be a mass in the area. And a sonogram is a sound wave test and will sometimes pick up areas that the X-ray test would not," said Dr. Allison.

Dr. Allison says dense breasts alone are not a risk factor for cancer and being told to get an ultrasound should also not be a cause for concern. Your doctor is just being careful. And don't hesitate to ask if you should have one.

"Most important -- if you feel something, and you're concerned about a lump or a mass, don't take no for an answer. But if you have dense breasts, then it's appropriate to consider a sonogram," said Dr. Allison.

Younger women are likelier to have dense breasts, but they can be found in older women too. You cannot tell yourself if you have dense breasts, but your radiologist can tell you.

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