To better detect breast cancer in women with dense breast tissue, Ellis Fischel Cancer Center is now offering automated whole-breast ultrasound as an additional diagnostic option. The new technology gives radiologists a clearer, more complete picture to help identify hidden breast tumors. Ellis Fischel Cancer Center is the only hospital in central Missouri to offer automated whole-breast ultrasound.

“Approximately 40 to 50 percent of women have a form of dense breast tissue,” said Megha Garg, M.D., director of the breast-imaging program at Ellis Fischel Cancer Center and associate professor of radiology in the University of Missouri School of Medicine. “To increase breast cancer detection, we’re offering women with dense breast tissue the option of undergoing an automated whole-breast ultrasound in addition to their mammogram.”

Breasts are composed of fibrous, glandular and fatty tissue. Dense breasts have a significant amount of fibrous or glandular tissue, but not much fat. In mammography, tumors can be difficult to detect in dense tissue as dense tissue appears white on a mammogram, and lumps — both benign and cancerous — also appear white.

A radiologist determines breast density based on a patient’s mammogram. There are four categories of breast density, and patients are assigned to one based on their results. Depending on risk factors such as family history, a physician may recommend additional screening beyond a mammogram.

During an automated whole-breast ultrasound, a woman lies on her back as the ultrasound device moves in parallel rows to ensure no areas of the breast are missed. The exam captures between 3,000 to 5,000 images that are then interpreted by a specially trained radiologist at Ellis Fischel Cancer Center. The exam is painless and takes about 25 minutes.

“Automated whole-breast ultrasound is recommended as a supplementary exam for women with dense breast tissue,” Garg said. “It’s not intended to replace mammography — the standard in cancer detection — but to give women an additional tool for cancer detection. Automated whole breast ultrasound has been proven to detect additional breast cancers that might be missed on mammography.”

In addition to automated whole-breast ultrasound, Ellis Fischel offers patients a range of detection methods, including 3-D mammography and breast MRI for patients who require additional screening.

“Dense breast tissue is not a condition or abnormality,” Garg said. “It simply refers to the ratio of fibroglandular tissue to fat in your breast on mammograms. But knowing whether you have dense breasts is important, because dense tissue might increase your risk of getting breast cancer or make cancer detection more difficult on mammograms.”

For more information or to schedule an appointment for any of Ellis Fischel Cancer Center’s breast cancer services, please call (573) 884-4854.

Ellis Fischel Cancer Center, a part of University of Missouri Health Care, is a certified member of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Network. Ellis Fischel Cancer Center offers patients with all types of cancers a comprehensive health team and innovative diagnostic and treatment options.