breastcancer_leadFrom grassroots educational efforts to new technologies to pending federal density legislation, imaging initiatives are leading the way in the war on breast cancer.

By Marianne Matthews

Approximately one in eight American women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. They are sisters, wives, aunts, friends, neighbors, and mothers. But sadly, this year alone, about 40,290 of them are expected to die from the disease.

The facts are downright cruel. That’s why breast cancer requires nothing short of a crusade.

Breast cancer remains the second leading cause of death from cancer for women in the United States. I’m heartened and proud to say that the imaging community is doing its utmost to change that horrible reality.

Here is a round up of some of the latest research, educational initiatives, and technology news that came across my desk in the last few months:

We hear a good deal about breast density’s role in breast cancer—and I’ll come back to that later—but exciting, new research published in the journal Radiology looks at how MRI provides important information about a woman’s future risk of developing breast cancer.

Researchers from Seattle Cancer Care and University of Washington reviewed screening breast MR images from high-risk women 18 years or older with no history of breast cancer who were screened at their institution from January 2006 to December 2011.

The study focused on finding any associations between cancer risk and imaging features, including breast density and background parenchymal enhancement (BPE). BPE is a phenomenon in which areas of normal background breast tissue appear white, or enhanced, on the MR images. The precise reasons for this enhancement are not clear, but previous research has suggested a possible link to cancer risk.

The results: Women who displayed elevated amounts of BPE on MRI were nine times more likely to have a breast cancer diagnosis during the study follow-up interval than those who exhibited no or minimal BPE.

The upshot of all of this is a possible expanded role for MRI as we move toward personalized medicine because understanding BPE levels can help clinicians tailor screening and management strategies.

In addition to research news, there is also imaging technology news to report regarding breast cancer. In April, the FDA approved the MAMMOMAT Inspiration with a tomosynthesis option. That means there are now three vendors—Hologic, GE Healthcare, and now Siemens—offering FDA-approved digital breast tomosynthesis technologies to breast imaging facilities across the nation.

While not every woman will have access to—or the need for—tomosynthesis, it is critical that women of a certain age are assured access to screening mammography. But for the more than 17 million women who live in rural areas of America that is not always easy. Thankfully, providers like Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) are making a difference. In response to community needs, HCMC recently launched a new mobile mammography unit, giving women across greater Minneapolis access to life-saving early breast cancer detection services.

The HCMC mobile unit—which employs full-field digital mammography—offers convenience, which can mean the difference between getting that annual mammogram or not. Moreover, mammograms are then reviewed using the Parascript AccuDetect CAD system, which can give radiologists enhanced confidence as they read scans.

There are local efforts such as HCMC’s and then there are national efforts in the battle against breast cancer. Our cover story titled “A United Front?” explores the debate over federal breast density reporting legislation. Whatever side of the issue you are on now, make sure to read the article—it just might change your perspective.

Most importantly, healthcare professionals as well as women need to educate themselves on the clinical implications of breast density. That’s why a nonprofit organization recently launched a major new educational Web site that addresses questions women and their doctors often have about breast density—helping them to “Get Smart About Being Dense.”

Check out the site,, which was developed with the support of Wendie Berg, MD, PhD, a radiologist at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

I could go on and on about the promising women’s imaging news that arrives in my inbox on a daily basis. It provides so much hope. Researchers, healthcare providers, manufacturers, and nonprofits are all making a difference in the war on breast cancer. Together, the imaging community is leading quite the crusade.

Post a comment and tell us how your organization is contributing to the cause.


Marianne Matthews is Chief Editor of AXIS.