Current Status and New Developments in Breast Cancer Diagnosis and Detection
Despite extensive research into new ways of imaging the breast x-ray mammography and breast ultrasound, supplemented where necessary by magnetic resonance imaging, remain the techniques used for the vast majority of breast imaging for screening and the assessment of symptomatic breast problems.
Recent advances in these technologies mean that these three techniques are highly effective for both detecting disease and for confirming normality. X-ray based imaging of the breast has been around now for 100 years but it is only in the last 10 years or so that digital technology developments have allowed for major advances in the efficacy of this technique. Digital breast tomosynthesis is currently the most promising technology as it has the potential to both improve detection of breast cancer and greatly reduce the numbers of false positive events.
Technological advances in grey scale high frequency ultrasound imaging mean that it is now universally used in both symptomatic diagnosis and breast screening. Newer ultrasound techniques such as 3D imaging, Doppler analyses and elastography add some additional value but so far none of these has achieved their hoped for additional potential. Magnetic resonance imaging is currently the most sensitive imaging technique for the detection and characterisation of breast disease, but its cost remains a barrier to its more widespread use. Nuclear medicine techniques have a role is special circumstances but are yet to show that they should be used in routine practice.
There are a large number of potential alternative new imaging techniques for the breast, but, as yet, none of these have shown any significant benefits over the current techniques.
Dedicated breast computed tomography has perhaps the best promise but clinically effective breast imaging at present remains in the application and refinement of recent developments in digital mammography, ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging.