POTSDAM — One in two. That’s about how many women today have dense tissue in their breasts. It’s also about how many are at risk for life-threatening cancers nearly invisible to ultrasound technologists.
However, Automated Breast Volume Scanning, now available at Canton-Potsdam Hospital — a first for the north country — will add a powerful tool in detecting cancers in women at risk.
ABVS, which is a radiation-free 3D ultrasound, will double the rate of cancer detection in dense breast tissue to seven in every 1,000 women.
“This, in my mind, was the answer that we were looking for,” said Dr. Michael Maresca, a radiologist.
In 2012, the hospital was mandated by the state to notify women if they had extremely dense breasts after a mammogram. That notification qualifies them for an ABVS scan.
Dr. Maresca said women are notified of dense breast tissue for three reasons: it makes cancers hard to find, it increases the risk they will be missed and dense tissue cancers tend to be those that spread.
“The key to decreasing the mortality — to making it a curable disease — is early detection,” he said.
Though the percentage varies, typically four in five women age 40 and younger have dense tissue in their breasts.
Some factors affecting the percentage of dense tissue include pregnancy, diet, age and hormones, according to Joyce A. Foster, mammography coordinator.
In the north country, 40 percent of women have 75 percent or more dense tissue in their breasts, according to Mrs. Foster.
Stacie M. Woodward, director of imaging/cardiology, compared dense breast tissue to muddy water, which makes it difficult to locate malignancies.
“When women’s breast tissue turns from dense to fatty, it’s like taking that veil off of your eyes,” Mrs. Woodward said.
She stressed that recommending an ABVS scan means only that dense tissue is obscuring the view, not that a malignancy has been found.
She also said it’s an opportunity to educate patients, so that they know more about the technology and what dense tissue is.
Nicole E. King, ultrasound technologist, said doing ultrasound scanning by hand is inconsistent, and if an area is missed or the transducer frequency is wrong, a section may go unreviewed by the radiologist.
Seven technologists have been trained to perform the scans, which will be done annually according to individual insurance plans.
“If you’re going to catch a cancer in a dense-breasted woman, and you catch one in a 45 year old … the years saved is huge,” Dr. Maresca said.
He is pushing to have the scanners in all 15 facilities in the St. Lawrence Health System.
“We would hope to have the whole corridor of Northern New York covered,” he said. “I hope they all have it soon.”