The first Automated Breast Ultrasound (ABUS) screening machine has been installed at the Justus Apffelstaedt and Associates Multi-disciplinary Breast Health Centre in Panorama, Western Cape.

The ABUS machine has the potential to significantly improve breast cancer screening of women with dense breasts. On a mammogram, dense tissue looks white and since masses or lumps also appear white, dense breast tissue may mask a suspicious lump. It’s for this reason that there is a global movement towards utilising ABUS technology in addition to mammography to ensure the best possibility of early detection.

“Due to the younger age structure of our population, about 90% of our patients have dense breasts on mammography,” said Associate Professor at the University of Stellenbosch and Head of the Breast Cancer Unit at Tygerberg Hospital, Professor Justus Apffelstaedt.

“Our cancer detection rate in these breasts with mammography and a hand-held ultrasound is comparable to the best screening programmes worldwide,” continued Apffelstaedt.

Researchers have linked dense breast tissue with an increased risk of developing breast cancer. Women with extremely dense breast tissue are at a four to six times greater risk of developing breast cancer than women with less dense breast tissue.

While mammographic screening remains the ‘gold standard’ for early detection of breast cancer, ultrasound is conducted as a “double check” and is especially important with patients with dense breasts.

In a traditional hand-held ultrasound, the probe is held by hand and advanced over the breast while the sonographer checks the image. Only if the sonographer feels that it should be done, is an image recorded.

With ABUS, the probe is moved automatically at a constant speed over the breast while images are constantly recorded. Post-acquisition image manipulation is possible with ABUS – such as 3D reconstructions and rotations.

Checking of images of the entire breast can be performed at a later stage as image acquisition and interpretations are separated, enabling review of images by several readers. These features greatly enhance the detection of small lesions especially in dense breasts.

“As the technology is still very expensive, ABUS is likely to remain in the arena of specialised private breast health practices for now, but the hope is that the technology price will decrease in time, making it more accessible to all healthcare services,” concluded Apffelstaedt.

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