A new way to save women from unnecessary biopsies
Updated: 06/03/2004 05:55 PM
All too often, women with an abnormal mammogram undergo anxiety-producing biopsies, only to find out it's nothing. But help is in the form of a new tool designed to end those biopsies and the stress that goes with them.
Laura Francis, 40, was just a teenager when she had her first biopsy for a breast lump. The lump was not cancer but that first biopsy was far from her last.
"It was like every year there was a lump. Then over a period of years, it wasn’t that bad, and then when I hit 30 it seemed to act back up again,” said Laura.
Computers help radiologists find suspicious areas in mammograms, but current technology cannot tell cancerous from healthy tissue.
Maria Kallergi, Ph. D. said, "When they find something and they really don't know what to do, the first reaction is send it to biopsy."
Eighty percent turn out to be normal benign conditions.
At Moffit Cancer Center, Dr. Kallergi is developing a new “Cancer ID” software to help doctors better identify cancerous lumps.
"You teach that system to learn to recognize certain patterns," said Dr. Kallergi.
In studies, the software identified nearly all the cancer cases and cut unnecessary biopsies by at least 30 percent.
Dr. Kallergi explained, "That is the role of computers. It's not to make decisions; it's to help them reach a more accurate decision."
Laura’s lumps were all benign, but facing constant biopsies took an emotional toll.
"I had nine biopsies and I had a lump at that point, and I decided either a tenth biopsy or you know permanently fixing the problem," Laura said.
Laura ended her biopsies with a double mastectomy, a decision this new technology might have spared her.
The "Cancer ID" software is still experimental but Dr. Kallergi says commercial software is likely to combine tumor detection with this new diagnostic tool in the next few years.
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