Most medical technology is an expensive sham. Take arterial stents, for example. After doctors spent billions and the manufacturer reaped huge profits, studies completely discredited it. However, once in a while, we see technology that offers a real breakthrough. These are the ones that spare you invasive procedures. And these are the ones I like. The latest is a new ultrasound test that might just spare you a breast biopsy.

Women know that finding a breast lump will likely lead to a biopsy. These are painful, and can lead to complications, scarring, and disfigurement. Trouble is, most biopsies are useless and, in some cases, dangerous. A full 8 in 10 biopsies (80%) come back benign. Worse, a needle biopsy could miss a cancer all together. Or, in the alternative, it could provide a contained tumor an easy way to spread into your body!

But that's not all. Biopsies are very expensive. They can cost up to $1,000. And it can take days to weeks to get final results. Wouldn't it be great if there were an accurate and painless alternative to biopsy? It's coming!

The new technique is based on such simple principles, that I'm very surprised no one thought of it sooner. Cancerous tumors are densely packed with rapidly dividing cells. Benign tumors are much softer. Hence, logic suggests measuring elasticity of the tumor. The new technique is aptly called elastography. The technique uses safe sound waves (ultrasound). The mass is first checked with the transducer lightly touching your breast. Then, pressure is applied to the transducer over your mass, while it takes readings. If your mass is benign, it will yield and compress easily, more like a soft spring. If it is cancerous, it will be stiff and hold shape, more like a marble or a stiff spring.

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How does it stack up? A small study on 80 women correctly identified 17 out of 17 cancerous tumors and 105 out of 106 harmless tumors. That's fantastic accuracy! With elastography, hard (cancerous) tumors show up as dark areas and benign tumors as light areas. You could know the identity of your breast lump in minutes, at a cost of $100-200. And best of all, there's no risk.

Action to take: This technology is not out yet, but will likely take off like a rocket when it does. There might be an investigation site near you in the future, even if it is not yet approved for general use. If you have a breast lump that your doctor wants to biopsy, show your doctor this article and ask about the availability of elastography before undergoing the needle or knife. With results like these, you will have an 80% chance to sleep well while avoiding an invasive procedure.

Because this issue affects every woman, please forward this article to all your friends. Once this test is widely available, it could save them from a lot of pain and suffering.

Ref: Santa Rosa Press Democrat, December 2, 2006

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