Karmanos doctors at work on new breast cancer screening tool

(WXYZ) - - The mammogram is an essential screening tool to help detect breast cancer at the earliest, most treatable stage.

But now, doctors at Karmanos Cancer Institute are working on a new screening tool that may have several advantages over mammography.

Pamela Haddox believes in mammograms. In 2008, a mammogram helped confirm that a lump in her breast was indeed cancer.

But now she’s a bigger fan of a new device called SoftVue which uses ultrasound to look for suspicious lesions.

She says, “A mammogram is like putting your breast in a vice, I would much rather put it in a tank full of water with no pain.”

The patient lies on a bed with a hole that allows her breast to be suspended into a tank of warm water. An ultrasound ring is raised to surround the breast and provide detailed three-dimensional images using sound waves.

Dr. Peter John Littrup is one of the inventors. He says the mammogram is an extremely valuable tool, but the SoftVue has some real advantages, “It has no compression, so some women have a little bit of discomfort with the yearly exam and stay away from it, secondly you can actually see through dense breasts.”

Which has been a problem with mammograms. And there is no radiation. That means patients like Pamela, who needed frequent screening during her treatment, can avoid a lot of radiation and a lot of the expense of an MRI

The SoftVue has been in development for ten years. This one is the only prototype. So far it has detected the same percentage of cancers as traditional screening devices – with one advantage.

According to Dr. Littrup, “It can do a much better job of discriminating whether a spot you find is cancer or not. That has big implications for reducing a lot of these unnecessary biopsies.”

The next step is for a commercial version of the SoftVue to be made so it can go to the FDA for approval.

Dr. Littrup says he’s anticipating FDA approval within a year to 18 months and then to go to multi-center trials to confirm the positive findings from the initial clinical studies involving 300 women here in Detroit.

The development process has been a long and expensive one with funding from a number of sources including the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.

For patients like Pamela, it’s worth every penny.

“If you gave me the option of coming to do this, I’m going to be the first one in line.”