Ultrasounds might be more effective than mammograms in detecting breast cancer early.
By KANTELE FRANKO
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
BOARDMAN -- McDonald resident Cheryl Brown might have breast cancer. She's waiting to find out.
It's been the same thing every year since 2001, when doctors detected several benign lumps in her breasts. She gets an annual mammogram, and then waits anxiously for the results.
Women like Brown who are at high risk for breast cancer might have increased chances of early detection pending the results of a national study of the effects of ultrasound in detecting the cancer.
The Breast Ultrasound Research Study, being conducted locally by Dr. Richard Barr of Radiology Consultants here, will evaluate whether ultrasounds can detect the cancer better than mammography in women with dense breast tissue.
About 3,000 women nationwide will undergo both an ultrasound and a mammogram annually for three years as their test results are followed by study coordinators.
Some of the women will get the ultrasound first, and the others will receive the mammogram first, Dr. Barr said. The tests will be performed by separate physicians who will interpret the results independently and then confer to see if their diagnoses match.
Test results will be tracked to determine if the addition of ultrasound to the screening process is useful in detecting cancer in its earliest stage.
Dr. Barr is seeking 200 women at high risk for breast cancer to participate in the study. Those with a family history of breast cancer or who have previously had breast cancer, as well as those who have had a breast biopsy showing pre-cancerous cells, are considered high risk. Women currently being treated for breast cancer are not eligible to participate.
Women 25 and older interested in voluntarily participating should contact local research coordinator Mari Mangino at (330) 884-3150. A survey and previous mammograms will be used to determine if women are eligible to participate because they have high risk and dense, nonfatty breast tissue.
The cost of each ultrasound, which averages between $300 and $400 in comparison to the $85 to $140 average cost for a mammogram, will be covered by the study, which is funded primarily by the Avon Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to improving women's lives.
Dr. Barr emphasizes that the study is not trying to replace mammography, but rather to supplement it.
Mammography detects up to 90 percent of breast cancers in women with no symptoms, said Al Stabilito, director of communications for the Eastern Ohio American Cancer Society.
The goal of studying ultrasound in combination with traditional detection methods is to increase that rate of detection, Dr. Barr said.
For women with dense breasts, both the cancer and their breast tissue appear white on a mammogram, he said. But using ultrasound, the cancer would appear black and the tissue would appear white.
"I think we're going to pick up more cancers," Dr. Barr said. "But time will tell."
About 50 women have participated locally in the study since the beginning of the year, Dr. Barr said.
As one of those participants, Brown wants to help other high-risk women like herself. "It makes me feel good knowing that I possibly can help someone down the road," she said.
Brown was chosen as a high-risk patient because of her age and her history of past lumps and biopsies.
She hopes to avoid becoming one of the 502 new cases of breast cancer predicted by the American Cancer Society for Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana counties in 2005.
Though those three counties fall somewhat below the national average for new cases reported, estimates predict about 118 people in the tri-county area will die from breast cancer in 2005, Stabilito said.
The ACS estimates 9,900 new breast cancer cases will be reported in Ohio in 2005, and about 2,000 breast cancer-related deaths will occur. Nationally, breast cancer will claim the lives of 40,410 people, and 211,240 new cases will be reported this year, according to the organization's predictions.