YOUR HEALTH: Quicker, more precise breast biopsies

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ST. LOUIS, Missouri - As many as 1.6 million breast biopsies are done in the United States every year.

As doctors try to rule out, or diagnose, breast cancer, now a new system allows radiologists to more precisely target suspicious areas during a 20-minute outpatient procedure.

50-year-old Lisa Smith eats right and lives a healthy lifestyle every day. It`s one way she`s getting her life back on track as she wraps up her breast cancer treatment.

"I'm feeling much stronger. My food taste normal again. My energy is back," she says.

Lisa`s doctors at SSM Health St. Louis University Hospital diagnosed her cancer at an early stage. They were among the first in the country to use the Affirm 3-D biopsy system.
"Before the Affirm system came along there wasn`t a great way to biopsy abnormalities that we could only see on the 3-D mammogram," says Dr. Debbie Bennett, director of Breast Imaging at the hospital.

The big difference for patients, they are lying face down with their breast exposed through an opening. Technicians work underneath.

"If a patient is lying on their back, their breast is actually going to be very flat," says Dr. Bennett. "What we need is to be able to spread the tissue apart so we can precisely pinpoint one area of the breast."

A computerized unit under the table help doctors accurately direct the biopsy needle.   A tiny hole in the tip allows them to remove a tissue sample about the size of a grain of rice.

Although Lisa Smith`s biopsy showed she was positive, she was glad the testing process was precise.

"It`s very targeted," she says.  "Done in real time, no digging around. no guessing."

Lisa`s first grandchild was born the day before she started chemo.  She says she`s thankful for a diagnosis and treatment that will keep her around for the people she loves.

Researchers in Europe were among the early test sites for Affirm.

They say doctors are able to visualize more tissue and conduct a faster procedure than traditional mammogram-guided biopsy.

TYPES OF BREAST BIOPSIES: There are several types of biopsies that exist to rule out breast cancer:

  • Fine needle aspiration biopsy, where a very thin needle is used to withdraw a small amount of tissue from the suspicious area.

  • Core needle biopsy, guided by an MRI, CT scan, and sometimes vacuum-assisted, this biopsy uses a larger needle to sample breast changes felt by a doctor or seen in a mammogram.

  • Surgical biopsy, rarely performed, consists of taking part (incisional biopsy) or the entire (excisional biopsy) mass, as well as surrounding breast tissue, out of the body to be examined.

  • Lymph node biopsy, most often examined at the same time as the breast tumor to check that no lymph nodes under the arm are enlarged.


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