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Health Beat: Bye, bye breast biopsy?

Published On: Apr 11 2014 02:38:52 PM EDT   Updated On: Apr 11 2014 05:36:47 PM EDT

About 1.7 million women will have a breast biopsy each year.


About 1.7 million women will have a breast biopsy each year. It’s an invasive, painful, and costly test that comes back negative about 60 percent of the time.

Now, there’s a new way to tell whether a mass is cancerous, and there's no needle required.

Playing hide and go seek, or playing the piano, when 3-year-old Kadin is around, Grandma Roz is always playing something.


“I am blessed by all my grandchildren, but this one’s got me,” Roz Sobel said.

She's needed the distraction. A few months ago, doctors found a lump on Sobel’s mammogram. It was a scary moment for a woman whose mother, grandmother, sister, cousin, and niece all had breast cancer.

"My family has a horrible history," Sobel said.

Typically, women like Sobel will need a painful needle biopsy to determine if the lump is cancerous, but she took part in a clinical trial testing a new technology called opto-acoustics.

"The thought is that this will help us determine what’s cancer and what’s not," said Dr. Paulette Lebda, breast radiologist, The Cleveland Clinic.

An ultrasound with a laser is used to look at the distribution of oxygenated and deoxygenated blood in the lump. It's essentially a blood map for doctors.

"Usually, benign breast masses can have a different blood profile, or blood map, than cancerous masses," Lebda said.

Studies have shown the technique could reduce the number of biopsies by 40 percent, which was music to Sobel's ears.

It turned out her lump was caused by a dog jumping on her, not cancer.

"They knew right then and there that it was from the dog," Sobel explained.

With the opto-acoustics technology, there's no radiation, no needle, no pain, and no risk to the patient. The technique is being studied in a clinical trial at 16 centers around the country. It will not replace mammograms, but may decrease the need for invasive biopsies by distinguishing cancerous from noncancerous breast masses through imaging.

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