Jewish World Review

New detection software may add years to patients' lives | (KRT) The pinpoint-sized tissue shined like the North Star amid the constellation of blood vessels, lymph nodes and breast tissue projected three dimensionally on the computer screen.

"That bright area," explained Dr. Andrew Osiason, "That's the cancer."

With a few clicks of a mouse, Osiason zeroes in on the tumor, then measures, diagrams, and graphs it. The picture of the breast pulsates as Osiason scrolls through thousands of images in seconds - creating a video play-by-play of blood rushing to the breast tissue and the cancer.

Despite the seriousness of his work, Osiason can't help smiling at the features of his office's new computer system. This tumor was most likely diagnosed months earlier and with greater accuracy than it would have been with any of the methods previously available to Osiason and fellow radiologists.

When it comes to aggressive cancers, that extra time could mean years of life to a patient.

"New technology is always beneficial," said Diane Lund, a breast cancer survivor and co-founder of Rachel's Friends - an Oregon-based breast cancer education group.

The technology is called CADstream, developed by Confirma, a Washington-based company that specializes in computer-aided detection and breast tissue imaging software. It has been available since January 2003 and is the first of its kind designed specifically to help doctors interpret magnetic resonance images of breast tissue.

"One of the biggest problems in breast imaging is you have this field of gray and you are trying to hunt through it for (tumors)," said David Wolfe, the manager of Confirma's Northeast division.

A mammogram - which is an X-ray of the breast tissue - missed Lund's breast cancer. By the time she was diagnosed six months after the first mammogram, the tumor had grown.

"An MRI obviously would have helped me," she said.

Before computer-aided detection programs for various parts of the body became widely available, radiologists would often print MRIs on large film paper and put it on a light board. They would then go through each printed image, one by one, looking for abnormalities in the black-and-white photograph. The process could take hours. Osaison worked that way for more than a decade before the computer programs became available.

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With the CAD system, more than 3,000 pictures can be scrolled through in minutes. The color-coded graphs the computer produces can tell doctors which images indicate a potential cancer.

Because of the cost of the new technology, some radiology centers and hospitals still use the light-board method.

Lund, who has been free of cancer for eight years, said she hopes the cost of the technology will not be prohibitive for women or their insurance carriers. She fears that insurance companies may be unwilling to pay for the top-of-the-line MRI. She also worries that women at low risk for cancer may demand the technology, even though they don't need that level of scrutiny.

The $10 million facility in Hackensack, N.J., where Osiason works, contains nearly every scanning device available, including an MRI machine, CT scan machine, and a soon-to-be installed positron emission tomography scanner.

"This is cool," says Osiason, his brown eyes widening as he shifts to another computer and studies images of a heart. "This is really as if somebody took your heart and put it on a computer."

The doctor switches the image to a golf-ball-size tumor on a 3-D color model of a patient's kidney. The grayish mass stands out against the healthy red kidney tissue so starkly that a layman could spot the malignancy.

"I think that we are much better at detecting abnormalities now that we are not on film," he says.

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© 2004, The Record Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services