Spotting what mammograms may miss

Molecular Breast Imaging

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A tumor or not a tumor? For women with dense breast tissue, mammograms might not be able to tell. Now, a new non-invasive tool could help doctors catch cancers that other tests can't detect.

Busy realtor Kristan Malin was diagnosed with breast cancer more than a year ago. Recently, it was like déjà vu.

"Yeah I found the lump and I of course panicked and thought oh my gosh I just had a lumpectomy, I've been through radiation, this isn't right, it can't be!" said Malin.
For thousands of women like Malin, mammograms may not be able to distinguish dense breast tissue from tumors.

"It's really hard to look for a small tumor that's also going to be white, which is what dense breast tissue appears," said Jamie Surratt, M.D., a radiologist at Baptist Medical Center here in Jacksonville.

Baptist Medical Center is taking a new approach to detect cancer in these cases. It's called MBI or molecular breast imaging.

"I think the breakthrough is that it's so different than all of our other tools," said Surratt.

The patient is injected with a radioactive isotope that super concentrates in areas where there's cellular energy associated with cancer. The tumor appears as an easy-to-see dark spot.

"It's able to help us differentiate things that we might otherwise have to biopsy," said Surratt.

As for Malin's MBI results, "The radiologist was able to determine that it wasn't breast cancer, she could clearly see that it wasn't breast cancer and I knew for sure when I walked out of the office that afternoon that it wasn't anything to be concerned about," said Malin.

Only a few centers around the U.S. are using the new molecular breast imaging approach. MBI for both breasts takes about 45 minutes and exposes the patient to slightly more radiation than a screening mammogram. Research is underway to try to reduce that exposure.

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