Dr. Anat Kornecki with a biopsy machine. Photo courtesy of Lawson Health Research Institute.Dr. Anat Kornecki with a biopsy machine. Photo courtesy of Lawson Health Research Institute.

New breast cancer biopsy method introduced at St. Joseph's London

A London-based research team is the first in North America to test a new biopsy procedure that could eliminate the need for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in diagnosing breast cancer.

The method is called contrast enhanced mammography (CEM) and it involves the patient receiving an intravenous injection of contrast iodine. This substance, which acts like a dye, is known to improve visibility for radiologists making it easier for them to spot lesions that pose a risk to the patient's health. Once detected, the next step is often to perform a biopsy on said lesion.

In a 50-patient study hosted by St. Joseph’s Health Care London’s Breast Care Program, the Lawson Health Research Institute research team used this method to find 51 possibly cancerous breast lesions, 46 of which were successfully biopsied. Of those 46 lesions, 11 were cancerous, 10 were high-risk, and the remaining were benign.

“These are very similar results that were reported through MRI-guided biopsies, which means that this new method can replace the MRI,” said Dr. Anat Kornecki, Lawson associate scientist and breast radiologist lead at St. Joseph’s hospital.

Compared to MRI, the CEM-guided biopsy is far more comfortable and offers a more streamlined process for both the patient and technicians.

Kornecki suggested that MRI machines have a few limitations aside from being uncomfortable to use. For example, she said it can be difficult to find lesions using MRI - particularly those located close to implants or chest walls. Not to mention, MRI technology is few and far between for Ontarians with only a couple hundred machines throughout the province.

While CEM is currently being used as a diagnostic tool in addition to MRI, Kornecki hopes to see CEM-guided biopsies approved as an initial breast cancer screening tool. 

The technique has been cleared by Health Canada and the FDA commercially, according to Lawson Health. The St. Joseph’s Breast Care Program has also designated the procedure as a clinical standard of care.

“It is a game changer with certainty,” Dr. Kornecki concluded. “This is now a great added component for patients, which makes it a very good tool."

This study was published in the American Journal of Roentgenology.

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