North Alabama Medical Center offering automated breast ultrasound for women with dense breast tissue

WAFF's Jasmyn Cornell reporting
Published: May. 3, 2023 at 7:37 AM CDT
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FLORENCE, Ala. (WAFF) - Regular mammograms can help find breast cancer at an early stage, but if your mammogram report says that you have dense breast tissue, you may be wondering what it means and what you should do next.

According to Dr. Tom Norman, radiologist at the North Alabama Medical Center, 40% of women have dense breasts. This can mask the appearance of tumors and make it more difficult for them to detect breast cancer.

Dr. Norman is using a machine that can help detect cancer in women with dense breast tissue. The machine is called automated breast ultrasound (ABUS), and it’s the only one of its kind in North Alabama.

What is breast density?

Breast density is a measure of how much fibrous and glandular tissue is in your breast, according to the American Cancer Society. It is not related to breast size or firmness. Your breast tissue may be called “dense” if you have a lot of these tissues.

How does the ABUS better detect cancer in women with dense breast tissue?

The North Alabama Medical Center says ABUS is a non-invasive ultrasound examination and an addition to mammography. As a secondary screening, it can see through dense breast tissue and has been shown to demonstrate a significant improvement in cancer detection.

On a mammogram, dense breast tissue looks white. Breast masses and cancers can also look white, so the dense tissue can make it harder to see them. With ABUS, breast tissue appears white, and cancer appears black on the ultrasound image, according to the North Alabama Medical Center.

The technology does not use radiation and features a 15-minute exam. It is at the Tri-State Center for Breast Health on Cloyd Boulevard in Florence.

Doctor Norman says the ABUS has demonstrated an almost 36 percent improvement in cancer detection in the women nationwide.

“Automated breast ultrasound, like mammography, is a means to search for small breast cancers,” said Dr. Norman. “Ultrasound does not have some of the limitations that mammography does because of breast density. So, the whole idea is to find small breast cancers at a stage when they are curable.”

Is ABUS covered by my insurance?

Health experts with the North Alabama Medical Center say the exam is covered by most insurances, but it may involve a standard copay and deductible. You do have to be diagnosed with dense breasts in order for insurance to cover it, they said.

The center does offer a cash option for people who have not been diagnosed with dense breast tissue.

For more information about ABUS and breast density, contact the center at 256-768-8171.

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