New Software Tool Potentially Reduces Number of Unnecessary Biopsy Surgeries in Women

By Kate Rauch

We are getting better at finding breast cancer through advanced imaging technologies. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), for example, is excellent at detecting breast malignancy, but plagued by a high rate of false-positives. Questionable spots identified through MRI are usually biopsied for further diagnosis, which means additional procedures for a lot of women who are actually cancer free.

"The good side of MRI is we do detect more cancer," said UCSF doctor Vignesh Arasu. "The flip side is more biopsies -- these are no joke, they can be the size of a baby carrot."

Arasu was intrigued by the problem of making MRI more practical for routine breast cancer screening and took a one-year break from medical school to join the Pathways to Career in Clinical and Translational Research Program (PACCTR), developed by the Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) at UCSF. The program matched Arasu with his mentor, UCSF researcher and radiologist Bonnie N. Joe, MD, PhD, who helped him conduct a research project from the get go to the finish line.

Applying a special Signal Enhancement Ratio (SER) software tool, Arasu reassessed MRIs of breast lesions, taken at UCSF in 2008. The SER tool, developed at UCSF, essentially enhances standard MRI imaging by using a time lapse comparison over the six minute procedure.

The first time around: All of the 73 MRI’s were followed up by biopsy, and 75% (55) were found to be benign and therefore false-positives.

The results with the new tool: After applying the tool and comparing the data with the biopsy findings, Arasu and team reduced the number of benign biopsies or false-positives by 60%, from 55 to 22. The findings were published in Academic Radiology.

"It's a great feeling to be the radiologist who makes a positive difference for patients,“ said Arasu, who is already investigating an expanded study of the SER tool. "It’s motivating."

CTSI at UCSF is a member of the national, NIH-funded CTSA network focusing on accelerating research to improve health. The Pathways to Career in Clinical and Translational Research Program (PACCTR) is among a wide range of CTSI resources and services that support research at every stage.