Rewriting Life

Screening with Sound

There’s a well-established medical technology that many physicians believe could help catch undiagnosed breast tumors in one-third to one-half of women – yet it’s not being used routinely. It’s ultrasound imaging, a longtime fixture of obstetricians’ offices. Some doctors use ultrasound along with traditional x-ray mammography in breast exams, but the majority have been waiting for clearer evidence of its benefits. And that’s exactly what a key clinical trial now under way in the United States could provide.

At least half of women under 50 and about a third of older women have naturally dense breast tissue, making it harder to distinguish between healthy tissue and questionable masses in mammograms. Ultrasound can get around that problem because the different types of tissue reflect sound waves differently, says Wendie Berg, the leader of the trial and an independent breast-imaging consultant in Lutherville, MD. “Ultrasound is widely available and relatively inexpensive,” she says. “It’s reasonable to consider it for routine screening.”

In past studies involving thousands of women, ultrasound did detect dozens of dangerous cancers missed by mammograms. But the studies didn’t adequately measure the reverse: the number of cancers detected by mammograms but missed by ultrasound.

This story is part of our November 2004 Issue
See the rest of the issue
Subscribe

The new trial will assess 2,808 women at 20 different U.S. and Canadian locations over three years and is designed to count “false negatives” accurately. All participants will get ultrasound exams in addition to their annual mammograms. A final verdict on the two technologies’ effectiveness isn’t expected until 2008.

Oncologists say ultrasound would only be a supplement, not a replacement, for x-ray mammography, since both methods sometimes miss tumors and misidentify healthy tissues as cancerous. But the two together, says Berg, could catch more cancers than mammography alone.

Want to go ad free? No ad blockers needed.

Become an Insider
Already an Insider? Log in.

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Rewriting Life

Reprogramming our bodies to make us healthier.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Premium {! insider.prices.premium !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Our award winning magazine, unlimited access to our story archive, special discounts to MIT Technology Review Events, and exclusive content.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

    First Look. Exclusive early access to stories.

    Insider Conversations. Listen in as our editors talk to innovators from around the world.

  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus ad-free web experience, select discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning magazine and daily delivery of The Download, our newsletter of what’s important in technology and innovation.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.