A new study from Dartmouth, titled “Benefits, Harms, and Cost-Effectiveness of Supplemental Ultrasonography Screening for Women With Dense Breasts“ presents compelling evidence on the multi-faceted implications of undergoing supplemental ultrasound screening for breast cancer for women with dense breast tissue. The study was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
According to senior author, Anna Tosteson, ScD of Dartmouth Hitchcock’s Norris Cotton Cancer Center and The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, supplemental ultrasound breast cancer screening does not have an effect on patients’ overall health, but can significantly raise healthcare costs. The study, led by Dr. Brian Sprague, also outlines evidence on the additional procedure’s possible positive and negative effects in women with dense breast tissue, but whose mammograms came back negative.
The team behind the study hopes the evidence gathered can help law makers take well-informed decisions on future regulations, instructing patients to understand if their mammogram indicates dense breast tissue – a known risk factor for breast cancer, and a potential barrier to the identification of problematic areas within the breast.
Dr. Tosteson believes their study could not come at a better time, now that regulations on breast density notification in around 19 US states are still pending. “It is critical that we understand what approaches to supplemental breast cancer screening are most effective for women with dense breasts”, she said in a news release.
It is estimated that about 40% of American women between the ages 40 and 74 years old have dense breast tissue, and as experts believe this to be a risk factor for the disease, notifying patients is a national health priority. Based on patient data from the Breast Cancer Surveillance Consortium (BCSC), and 3 simulation models within the National Cancer Institute (NCI)-funded Cancer Intervention and Surveillance Modeling Network consortium, researchers found that out of 10,000 women with dense breast tissue, aged 50 to 74 years old, who would consent to supplemental ultrasound screening after a negative mammogram, only 4 breast cancer-related deaths would be prevented; but 3,500 women without breast cancer would end up unnecessarily having a biopsy.
In light of this study’s conclusions, Dr. Tosteson also helped author a separate simulation modelling study, resulting in preliminary findings on digital breast tomosynthesis, leading the team to suggest this new diagnostic technology may be a more reliable and cost-efficient option for women.