By Sam Skopp
In 1985, the American Cancer Society founded National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which occurs during the month of October and is aimed at promoting awareness of preventative measures against breast cancer. Typically, women are encouraged to schedule regular mammograms in order keep track of their breast health. However, Dr. Barbara Hayden at the Sound Breast Institute here in Santa Monica has found that conventional mammograms are not the ideal measure for breast cancer prevention for all women.
This is because for women with implants or dense breasts, which is more than 50 percent of all women, mammograms have been shown to miss approximately half of all breast cancers. Furthermore, some women simply find the procedure too painful, unnecessary due to young age, or simply too imprecise.
Currently, handheld ultrasound is offered to women with dense breasts since a mammogram can miss cancers. Unfortunately, handheld ultrasound isn’t guaranteed to catch smaller tumors.
“It’s a bit of a random walk through the breast and involves the hand-eye coordination of the technician. It’s not even done by a radiologist most of the time,” said Hayden.
Dr. Hayden emphasizes the importance of taking early preventative measures against breast cancer, even at a young age. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, making it the second leading cause of death for women. Statistically, one woman dies of breast cancer every 13 minutes.
As an alternative to conventional mammography, Dr. Hayden utilizes a technology developed by researcher Dr. Kevin Kelly called the SonoCiné Automated Whole Breast Ultrasound (AWBUS). As its name suggests, the technology relies on ultrasound to find cancer cells in breast tissue, which so far, is the only definitive way to see cancer in breast tissue even in women with implants or dense breasts. Additionally, whereas mammography irradiates breast tissue and can sometimes increase the risk of breast cancer, the AWBUS process is risk-free.
“You could safely have one every day,” Hayden said.
The AWBUS process is comprehensive as well. The ultrasound, which is conducted by a computerized arm rather than a technician, screens tissue from the midline to the back including the axilla (arm pit.) Tumors as small as three millimeters can be captured by the process, even if obscured by an implant.
Dr. Hayden’s practice in Santa Monica is currently the only location on the Westside to offer automated whole breast ultrasound screening. There are other automated breast ultrasounds, but none that are considered whole breast. Dr. Hayden wants to change that, and hopes ultrasound technology will become the norm, due to its superior capability to detect cancers in all breast tissue no matter the density.
Both during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, as well as the rest of the year when the disease is given less attention, Dr. Hayden stresses the importance of women undergoing regular screenings in order to detect cancer cells early, greatly increasing the chance of recovery.
For more information about the Sound Breast Institute, visit soundbreastinstitute.com.