SF ultrasound clinic using FDA-approved AI to help detect types of breast cancer faster

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Saturday, April 13, 2024
SF ultrasound clinic using FDA-approved AI to detect breast cancer
An effective ultrasound technology is now using FDA-approved artificial intelligence to help detect types of breast cancer faster.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- An effective ultrasound technology is now using FDA-approved artificial intelligence to help detect types of breast cancer faster -- and for some patients, more effectively.

Eve Wellness is the only known ultrasound imaging center in San Francisco that's using AI to enhance screening.

Jenna's Story

At the age of 38, Jenna Williams was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. She was in disbelief.

"There's just no way. I'm too young," said Williams. "This can't be possible."

After noticing the lump, she couldn't get an appointment with her doctor.

"I needed help immediately," she said.

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After calling Eve Wellness, she says she secured an appointment within 12 hours.

Eight days later, she received her diagnosis.

"It really expedited the entire experience for my diagnosis," she said.

Eve Wellness co-founder Brendan Foley says they're using what's called an ABUS, an automated breast ultrasound machine. It's one of only three in San Francisco that scans several images on each side of the breast.

The imaging is then sent through the clinic's AI scan and is forwarded to a physician who provides the report. According to Foley, the AI scan uses a software that compares the images taken against roughly 200 million other breast scans.

"Breast cancer will impact about one in eight women in the U.S., one in four if you have a family history," Foley said. "Using AI with this machine helps us be more efficient."

The Process

The typical breast screening age is 40 for mammography. Ultrasound screening is often preferred for younger patients, as it's free of radiation and there's no age restriction or doctor referral needed.

For women undergoing a scan, the process begins with a "risk assessment," which assesses your risk of breast cancer over your lifetime.

Before the screening, a liquid lotion is applied to help capture the images. The scan costs about $350 and takes about 20 minutes. The facility says results will be provided within 48 hours.

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"Typically speaking, cancers do appear white on the scan," said Kierstyn Taylor, the clinical imaging specialist.

The ultrasound scan also captures images in the armpit area, which may be missed by mammography.

According to the clinic's physician, the AI software hasn't misdiagnosed any breast cancer since using it three years ago.

Experts Weigh In

Research by the National Cancer Institute found that mammography is more likely to miss cancer among women with dense breast tissue.

"We've actually looked at this very carefully and this has been going on for a long time," said UCSF Dr. Laura Esserman, a surgeon and breast cancer oncologist. "So, if you have dense breast tissue, it's hard to get sound waves or X-rays through the tissue."

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Esserman is the Director of UCSF's Carol Franc Buck Breast Care Center. She says ultrasounds have high false positive rates. Some other options she recommends for women with dense breast tissue, especially if you're a mutation carrier, are contrast-based exams, like Ivy Contrast Mammography or an MRI.

"Because that allows you to look at how well vascular is, what the blood flow is to a tumor," Esserman said.


Esserman leads the WISDOM Study that compares two approved screening approaches: annual mammograms versus personalized approaches to breast screening that's based on individual risk, like breast density and family history.

"The rates of breast cancer have been increasing in the United States as well, they've been increasing really since we started screening," Esserman said.

A recent study published in the Journal of American Medical Association found rates of early onset breast cancer has increased by nearly 4% among U.S. women from 2016 through 2019. And while women over the age of 50 are at higher risk, this study found a rising trend of breast cancer among women under 40.

MORE: Cancer deaths are declining, but increase for some cancers in young adults, report says

"In young women, it isn't as common, but it's still common enough that you have to be aware, and you can't have your head in the sand and think, 'Oh I'm not at risk because I'm a young woman and don't have any family history,'" Esserman said.

Look at patients like Williams -- no family history of breast cancer and she was diagnosed in her late 30s.

"I wound up to have a very rare, aggressive type of cancer," Williams said. "If I had waited months for appointments in the hospital system, it could have been worse."

If you are a woman ages 30 to 74 -- you can join the WISDOM study and help other women across the U.S. find safe ways to detect breast cancer. Find more information here.

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