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SEATTLE – (Oct. 28, 2014) — Virginia Mason is the first in the region to acquire the new ultrasound device that performs whole-breast cancer screenings for women with dense breast tissue.

Called the Automated Breast Ultrasound System (ABUS), the machine produces vivid three-dimensional images that enable radiologists to detect cancer that might otherwise go unnoticed by mammography and become more difficult to treat successfully.

An ABUS ultrasound differs from a traditional ultrasound in which a technologist scans the breast with a handheld wand. With ABUS, the whole breast is automatically scanned. Three scans of each breast are obtained, minimizing the chance any portion of tissue will be missed.

An estimated one-half of adult females have dense breast tissue. This biological factor increases their breast cancer risk by four to five times, while also making the cancer more difficult to detect with mammograms alone.

“Mammography is an effective tool for finding breast cancer, however, it doesn’t work equally well in all women, particularly those with dense breasts,” said Beverly Hashimoto, MD, radiologist, Virginia Mason. “As breast density goes up, the accuracy of mammograms goes down.”

A recent study determined the cancer-detection rate for women with dense breast tissue increased nearly 35 percent when ultrasound and mammography are combined. For example, 11.8 cancers were detected per 1,000 screenings when mammography and ultrasound were used. By comparison, the detection rate dropped to 7.6 cancers per 1,000 screenings when only mammography was used, according to the August 2014 edition of the American Journal of Radiology.

Some states have enacted laws mandating women be notified by their breast health providers if they have dense tissue and informed of the potential benefits of supplemental imaging beyond mammography. Although Washington state does not yet have such a law, Virginia Mason is not waiting. The organization has begun mailing information to several thousand patients who have dense breast tissue, emphasizing the importance of ultrasound screenings in addition to regular mammograms.

“This is a health issue of the utmost importance,” said Jennifer McDowell, manager, Diagnostic Imaging, Virginia Mason.

Virginia Mason is one of multiple sites in the nation where clinical trials for ABUS were conducted. The system is approved for whole-breast screening by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and will be used at the Virginia Mason Breast Clinic in Seattle starting in November.

About Virginia Mason
Virginia Mason, founded in 1920, is a nonprofit regional health care system in Seattle that serves the Pacific Northwest. Virginia Mason employs 6,000 people and includes a 336-bed acute-care hospital; a primary and specialty care group practice of more than 460 physicians; regional medical centers throughout the Puget Sound area; and Bailey-Boushay House, the first skilled-nursing and outpatient chronic care management program in the U.S. designed and built specifically to meet the needs of people with HIV/AIDS. Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason is internationally recognized for its breakthrough autoimmune disease research. Virginia Mason was the first health system to apply lean manufacturing principles to health care delivery to eliminate waste, lower cost, and improve quality and patient safety.

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Media Contact:
Gale Robinette
Virginia Mason Media Relations
(206) 341-1509

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