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Ultrasound and mammography

Posted Dec 29 2008 10:01pm

This is a guest post by Sarah Scrafford, who regularly writes on the topic of Online Ultrasound Technician Schools. She invites your questions, comments and freelancing job inquiries via email:

Cancer is one of the few diseases that has always been one step ahead of medical technology and research. While we do have a large amount of information about the disease, we’ve hardly explored the tip of the iceberg - there’s still a whole lot that we don’t know, and we lack a cure. We know that chemotherapy and radiation help to kill the cancer cells and we know that detection at an early stage increases chances of survival. But we don’t know why certain people get cancer and others don’t. We don’t understand why some forms of cancer are not detectable until it’s too late to do anything about them, and we certainly are far from finding a definite cure for this dreaded disease.

One area where we have made advances though, is in the early detection of some forms of cancer. Women have been plagued by breast cancer for ages, and it’s only now that they’re waking up to the fact that they can be completely cured if only they detect the malignant growth early. While mammograms are used as a matter of routine to check if the breasts have cancerous lumps, not many people know that an ultrasound scan of the breasts can be just as effective as a mammogram if not more so.

Here’s why a breast ultrasound scores over mammography:

  • Unlike mammograms that use X-rays, ultrasound does not use radiation (it uses mechanical waves) to detect the presence of cancerous tissue and cells. Radiation, in large amounts, may harm your cells and make them cancerous.
  • Mammograms search your breasts for microcalcifications only, while ultrasounds detect the shape and texture of these microcalcifications as well.
  • It’s relatively inexpensive and available at most hospitals and healthcare centers.
  • It’s painless when compared to a mammogram, which some patients say is a little painful.
  • An ultrasound can detect if a lump is benign or malignant, something that a mammogram cannot.
  • It scans the whole breast while a mammogram does not cover the entire area.
  • A mammogram does not work efficiently for breasts that are dense.
  • Ultrasounds with color pre-processing options show contrasts in the scan pictures more sharply and are hence used for a more specific diagnosis.
  • Ultrasound does not require compression of the breasts, and this is why it’s a more comfortable procedure.
  • Ultrasound produces images of high quality that make the identification and localization, and hence treatment, of the cancer, easier.
  • An ultrasound can differentiate between solid tumors and cysts filled with fluid.

Even with all these advantages, ultrasounds are not used frequently as a detection method for breast cancer because of the high percentage of false positives.

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