Biopsy More Effective Than Noninvasive Tests for Breast Cancer
Four noninvasive tests for breast cancer are not accurate enough to routinely replace biopsies, according to a study published Thursday by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, CQ HealthBeat reports (CQ HealthBeat, 2/9). If there are abnormal results following a mammogram, current guidelines advise getting a biopsy, which involves the removal of a small portion of tissue for testing.
An estimated 20% of women who get a biopsy actually have breast cancer instead of a different, benign condition (Washington Post, 2/10).
Researchers at AHRQ studied the four noninvasive imaging techniques on the market -- MRI scans, ultrasounds, PET scans and a type of nuclear medicine test called scintimammography (Tribune News/Chicago Tribune, 2/10). The agency reviewed 81 studies to evaluate the accuracy of the four tests (Larkin, Bloomberg News/Boston Globe, 2/10).
The researchers found that between 4% and 9% of cancerous breast tumors are missed in women with average risk of the disease, potentially more among high-risk women (Tribune News/Chicago Tribune, 2/10). The results indicate that noninvasive tests need technological advancements and more consistency in how results are read before they can be a safe alternative to biopsies, according to Carolyn Clancy, director of AHRQ.
Although health officials have been looking for a test that can safely reduce the number of biopsies, Clancy said that the noninvasive tests "don't reduce the uncertainty enough" to substitute for tissue sampling. She added, "The biopsy is the best diagnostic test we have right now" (Bloomberg News/Boston Globe, 2/10). Clancy said, "So many women today undergo biopsies only to learn they do not have breast cancer. Hopefully, noninvasive tests can continue to improve so that in the future, there will be a viable alternative to biopsy" (CQ HealthBeat, 2/9).
The report did not evaluate the accuracy of breast cancer tests for men (Bloomberg News/Boston Globe, 2/10).