First patient screened using Michigan’s new system to better detect cancer in dense breasts

Since having tumors removed about 30 years ago, Cheryl Schiebold has been diligent about having annual breast cancer screenings.

In recent years, this has involved three-dimensional mammography and manual ultrasound, but on Thursday Schiebold, 66, about an hour after traditional mammography, became the first patient to undergo imaging using a computed tomography system. 3D whole breast ultrasound called SoftVue.

“It was a much better experience,” said Schiebold, who lives in Taylor.

The Michigan-developed SoftVue system arrived last week at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit. Karmanos, part of Grand Blanc-based McLaren Health Care, was the first to buy the technology, approved by the US Food and Drug Administration to screen women who have denser-than-fatty tissue in their breasts, a situation common complicating cancer detection.

RELATED: New technology from Michigan better detects cancer in women with dense breast tissue

Schiebold said Karmanos staff guided her through the process “and made it extremely comfortable.” She had to lie flat on a horizontal platform with a hole in it. Her breasts were dropped, one at a time, into a hot water bath and imaged using ultrasound waves and sound itself.

“I didn’t know what that water would look like, but it didn’t look like anything,” Schiebold said.

A “ring of transducers” moves vertically from the tip of the breast to collect 3D tomographic imagery.

The whole process took about 10 minutes.

By comparison, a manual ultrasound, performed by a technician using a wand, as is the case for pregnant women’s bellies, took perhaps 30 minutes and involved some compression. “Because of the dense fabric, sometimes they have to dig a little harder, and it wasn’t like that at all.”

Schiebold then spoke to a doctor and, while the results weren’t definitive, didn’t come away with great concern. She should be back in a year.

She said she had been doing her annual screenings at Karmanos since around 2008, when she was referred after surgery. The institute subscribes to the newest ideas, the best protocols, she said. “They are state of the art with their equipment and their diagnostics.” The Thursday appointment was already scheduled when the institute staff called her to ask if she wanted to try the new technology.

She was told in 2015 or 2016 that her breasts were dense, putting her at increased risk of cancer, in part because mammograms could miss a suspicious lump. The more grainy the breast tissue, the whiter the breast appears. Regarding the lumps also appear white, hiding them from view.

Schiebold, retired from a teaching career, was not always so conscientious. She ignored the signs of trouble, making excuses, until the discharge started seeping through her work clothes when she was in her late twenties or early thirties. “That’s where it caught my attention.”

Discharge from the nipple other than breast milk is a warning sign of breast cancer. (Others include a new lump in the breast or armpits, irritation or dimpling of the breast skin, redness or scaly skin, and thickening or swelling of part of the breast, according to the Centers for United States Disease Control and Prevention.)

In the late 1980s or early 1990s, she had two tumors removed, at different times and at opposite sites.

Fortunately, they weren’t smart.

But they could have been, Schiebold said.

She has since had several biopsies, during which tissue is removed and checked, but has never been diagnosed with cancer.

“Maybe it was because they figured out what the wrong cells were or they just looked and made sure nothing else was going on there,” said Schiebold, who spoke to repeatedly about the importance of early detection and regular screening.

People need to be their own advocates. They can’t be too careful, she said, noting that a friend learned of breast cancer after experiencing pain in her arm.

“Hopefully we can get all women to make sure they don’t ignore the signs and do the yearly, and get the best possible treatment.”

Interested women should talk to their doctor about SoftVue. They can also call 1-800-KARMANOS or visit Karmanos.org/SoftVue for more information.

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