New ultrasound technique helps pinpoint malignant breast lesions

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A new ultrasound technique has proven to be highly effective in helping radiologists distinguish between benign and malignant breast lesions. The technique makes use of elasticity imaging and proved effective in nearly all the cases looked at by a team at Northeastern Ohio University. The findings were presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) in Chicago.

"In our work, elasticity imaging has been found to have high specificity," said Richard G. Barr, MD, PhD, professor of radiology at Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine and radiologist at Southwoods X-Ray and MRI in Youngstown. "If our results can be reproduced in a large, multi-center trial, this technique could significantly reduce the number of breast biopsies required."

Elasticity imaging is a modification of a routine ultrasound exam, and essentially acts as a much more sensitive manual self-exam. The technique is able to gauge how much tissue moves when pushed, and also detects how soft or stiff the tissue being evaluated is.

Barr performed elasticity imaging exams in correlation with a routine ultrasound exam in evaluating 166 lesions in 99 patients. Biopsy showed that elasticity imaging correctly identified all 17 malignant lesions and 105 of 106 benign lesions, for a sensitivity of 100 percent and a specificity of 99 percent.

"Our ability to find lesions in the breast has increased significantly over the last 10 years but at the expense of an increased number of biopsies," Barr said. "This technique could significantly reduce the number of biopsies and increase the confidence of women that a detected lesion is truly benign."

Barr and his associates plan to build on their research in an international, multi-center trial beginning in January 2007.