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An ultrasound is much better than a mammogram for detecting breast cancer in women under 40, U.S. researchers claim in a recent study.
While an ultrasound is generally recommended as a secondary diagnostic tool in Canada, in 1,208 cases of diagnostic breast imaging on women 30-39, ultrasound found 22 cancers, while mammography found 14, according to an analysis by the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and the University of Washington.
Ultrasound also has a "far higher sensitivity" than mammography for detecting cancer: 95.7% compared to 60.9%, according to the analysis.
Mammograms are still the screening tool of choice for women over 40, the American researchers said. In Canada, the guidelines recommend a regular mammogram (once every two years) only for women 50 and older.
Breast cancer accounts for approximately 15% of all cancer deaths in Canadian women, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada, which says 1 in 9 women is expected to develop the disease during her lifetime and 1 in 28 will die of it.,
On its website, Health Canada says mammography is the only technique "proven to be safe and effective" and approved for breast cancer screening in this country. It recommends ultrasound, MRI or other tools be used in further investigation but not primarily for the purpose of screening.
However, the agency did last year approve a new device called an Automated Breast Ultrasound (ABUS) that may be used for screening "as an adjunct to mammography." The ABUS is available at two private clinics in the Toronto area and one opening next month in Vancouver, though the cost of the screening is not covered by provincial health plans.
The ABUS is used to screen for breast cancer throughout the European Union.
In the U.S., mammography is still recommended as the primary diagnostic tool for breast cancer, and the researchers said this guideleline should be reconsidered.
The findings were published Monday in the American Journal of Roentgenology.
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