BACKGROUND: Women have a new imaging tool set to help diagnose breast cancer. The 3TP method generates a unique color-coded map by measuring changes (color and intensity) in contrast agent concentration in normal and cancerous tissues over time. It provides information that is not readily available from traditional mammography or MRI. In addition, the 3TP system is ergonomically designed to be comfortable for the patient, regardless of breast size.
HOW MRI WORKS: Magnetic resonance imaging uses radiofrequency waves and a strong magnetic field instead of X-rays to provide clear and detailed pictures of internal organs and tissues. These radio waves are directed at protons in hydrogen atoms -- one of the most abundant atoms in the human body, because of the body's high water content. The waves "excite" the protons, and when they "relax," they emit strong radio signals. A computer can turn those signals into a high-contrast image showing differences in the water content and distribution in various bodily tissues. It is becoming increasingly popular as an alternative to traditional X-ray mammography for the early diagnosis of breast cancer because women aren't exposed to the same radiation they experience with X-rays.
ABOUT BREAST CANCER: Breast cancer is a type of cancer in which cells in the breast become abnormal and grow and divide uncontrollably, eventually forming a mass called a tumor. Some tumors are benign, meaning that they do not invade other types of tissue, although if they become big enough, they can interfere with some bodily functions, such as the flow of blood or urine. Malignant tumors have cells that can invade nearby tissues. When a cancer "metastasizes," cells from the original tumor break off and travel to other parts of the body via the blood or lymph systems. More than 75 percent of breast cancers begin in the milk ducts within the breast. The next most common site is in the glandular tissue that makes the milk.
DO-IT-YOURSELF BREAST EXAM: Although it is not a substitute for regular tests by your doctor, women can perform a basic breast self-exam at home. In fact, more than 90 percent of all breast lumps are found by the women themselves. Breast tissue is shaped like a comma with the tail curving up toward the armpit, and normally has a lumpy feel. Because hormones can affect the breast tissue, the best time to examine your breasts is a few days after your period ends, when hormone levels are stable.