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A new screening tool that is being used to detect breast cancer is shown to work three times better than mammography at finding tumors in women who have dense tissue in their breast, which can confound mammograms.

Mammography, which is an X-ray of the breasts, was shown to detect less than a third of the tumors that were found by using this new technique called molecular breast imaging, or MBI, the researchers stated in from of a breast cancer committee that is sponsored by the American Society of Clinical Oncology and other groups.

Mammography is most commonly used to screen patients for breast cancer, but only about a quarter of women have dense breast tissue, which can cause the mammogram X-rays difficulty in seeing through this to spot small tumors. The physicians are eager for other methods that could be used to perform the scans more efficiently.

This study, which involved 940 women, is the largest to date to compare the new technology MBI to mammography. The MBI is still experimental and is not readily available to women yet.

The women from the study that were considered to be at high risk for contracting breast cancer due to a family history of the disease, genetic susceptibility or other factors, underwent mammogram screenings and the new MBI screenings.

Before an MBI, the patients are first injected with radioactive agents that get absorbed by the tissue in the breast. Breast cancer cells tend to absorb more of the agent that the healthy cells, and the specialized cameras that detect the gamma rays from the agents then it can differentiate tumors from the healthy tissues.

Carrie Hruska from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and the lead researcher of the study, said, "We're certainly not advocating replacing mammography in any way. But we think it (MBI) would have a role as an additional test for those women that aren't served as well by mammography as we would like."

With using the MBI technology, the ability to see a tumor is not affected by the density of the surrounding tissue in the breast, so it offers a great promise for women whose mammograms may not provide the most accurate assessment. Among the 940 women who participated in the study, 13 tumors were found in 12 of the women. The MBI found 10 of them and the mammography found three.

Dr. Eric Winer, from Harvard Medical School and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, commented for the American Society of Clinical Oncology by saying that 10 and 15 percent of all breast cancers cannot be detected by using mammograms. Winer also told reporters, "More and more we may be getting away from one-size-fits-all in terms of screening approaches, and instead think about screening approaches that are directed more to an individual women based on her risk and on the characteristics of her breasts."

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