News

Breast cancer: New imaging techniques can avoid many biopsies


Breast cancer diagnostics: How imaging techniques can avoid unnecessary biopsies

Every year, around 35,000 women in Germany are recommended to have a breast biopsy to determine whether they have breast cancer. However, only around half of them actually have a malignant tumor. Researchers are now reporting on how imaging techniques can avoid unnecessary tissue samples.

The most common malignant tumor in women

"According to projections by the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin, around 65,500 women are diagnosed with breast cancer in Germany every year," writes the German Cancer Aid. Breast cancer is the most common malignant tumor in women. As a rule, the chances of a cure increase the earlier the tumor is discovered and the more precisely it can be diagnosed. A team of researchers from the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) in Heidelberg has set itself the goal of improving the diagnosis of breast cancer. In a new study, they were able to demonstrate that many control biopsies could be avoided after a mammogram was found.

Early detection of breast cancer

Women from 50 to 69 years old can participate in the breast cancer screening program free of charge, but in some places only about every second person goes to mammography screening. Some women are afraid of the exam - it is not entirely painless.

But mammography is one of the most important methods for the early detection of breast cancer. According to experts, more than 17,000 carcinomas were discovered in one year.

The examination can reveal changes in the tissue.

Special chest X-ray

As the DKFZ wrote in a statement, around 2.8 million women in Germany undergo this special X-ray examination of the breast as part of a mammography screening every year.

However, the results are not always easy to interpret. For this reason, around every twentieth woman who takes part in the screening must expect a striking finding.

If the suspicion then hardens, doctors usually suggest taking a tissue sample (biopsy).

"This affects almost 35,000 women a year, but only around half of them actually have a malignant tumor," explained Sebastian Bickelhaupt from the German Cancer Research Center.

Optimize examination of the female breast

The radiologist and his colleagues therefore set about optimizing diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for the examination of the female breast and combining it with intelligent computer-based image analysis methods.

With the diffusion-weighted MRI, the movement of the water molecules in the tissue can be made visible and observed with the help of a computer algorithm. Malignant tumors change the structure of the tissue, which affects the movement patterns of the water molecules.

This connection, in turn, could be used for the early detection of breast cancer - without having to take tissue samples and without exposing the body to contrast agents.

"The aim is to gain a better non-invasive insight into the body tissue and to provide radiologists with additional tissue information for clinical evaluation in addition to the still important standard procedures," said Bickelhaupt.

Reliable statements about malicious changes

The DKFZ scientists have now shown in a study that the optimized diffusion-weighted MRI in combination with intelligent image analysis methods actually allows reliable statements about malignant changes in the breast.

To this end, they examined a total of 222 women who were to undergo a biopsy after an abnormal mammography finding.

Before the tissue sample was taken, the researchers analyzed the breast tissue of the study participants using their newly developed method.

The promising result: The number of false positives in the study group was reduced by 70 percent. The scientists were able to identify actually existing malicious changes in 60 of 61 cases.

This corresponds to a hit rate of 98 percent and is comparable to the reliability of MRI methods that use contrast media.

The study results were recently published in the journal "Radiology".

More studies needed

"We evaluate the recordings with the help of an intelligent software that we have developed," explained computer scientist Paul Jäger, who shares the first authorship of the study with Bickelhaupt.

"This makes the method largely independent of the interpretation by individual doctors." This ensures that the method achieves equally reliable results at different study centers.

In a next step, the method must prove itself in larger multicentre studies before it can be routinely used in the clinic. The scientists are currently developing the necessary collaborations.

"If our results are confirmed in future studies, we will have an additional diagnostic tool available that can further improve the early detection of breast cancer," said Bickelhaupt. (ad)

Author and source information


Video: Breast Cancer Genetics, Risk, and Screening (December 2021).