You have to be pretty excited that 3D mammography was just approved, but the good news does not stop there. A unique 3D ultrasound technology is also in the FDA approval process. Screening mammography has been the gold standard for detecting breast cancer for 30 years. Still, the technology has a false positive rate ranging from 5.5% to 7.4%. Because of this, patients are referred to ultrasound then MRI to rule out cancer before a biopsy is performed.
Warm Bath Ultrasound (WBU) is a new technology designed to produce 3D breast images in less than 10 minutes. Its based on placing the breast in a warm water bath surrounded by multiple ultrasound transducers, allowing near instantaneous tomographic imaging of the tissue.
Although limited as a screening tool, ultrasound has proven to offer increased sensitivity in ruling out cancer, especially in younger women (52% for mammography, 72% for ultrasound). But, it can be a slow process that is very dependent on the skill of the operator. In addition to increased patient throughput, automating the ultrasound process increases the detection rate. Studies using automated whole breast ultrasound show that the breast cancer detection rate doubles when the technology is used in conjunction with mammography.
Dr. William F. Walker, Ph.D., associate professor of biomedical engineering, Virginia Medical Ultrasound Technology Group at University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA, made an interesting comment about breast cancer stenography when I spoke to him. He said, “Historically, we’ve focused on image quality. One of the things already occurring in ultrasound is the transition from 2D to 3D imaging. One of the findings is that, in 2D systems, image quality and diagnostic ability depend tremendously on the skill of the sonographer. Now, with 3D imaging, the sonographer gets one giant group of 3D data and then the radiologist looks at the data to find what they’re looking for. Now you can get very good results in much shorter scan times and depend less on the quality of the sonographer with 3D.
The ultimate goal of Warm Bath Ultrasound is to lower the need for a biopsy. But, the technology also offers the promise of taking improved diagnostic yields another step farther by improving the process. When approved, studies will take minutes and allow providers a more predictable throughput, an important factor for womens imaging centers that already are facing tight margins.