For years, doctors had told Teresa Masters that she was free of breast cancer.
The now 87-year-old woman said she had undergone yearly mammogram exams at UC San Diego and always left without a diagnosis. In September 2011, Masters said she once again visited the hospital for her annual exam. On that day, the doctors performed an ultrasound and mammogram and also requested that Masters undergo a biopsy, she recalled.
Scared of the severity of such a procedure, the Oceanside woman reached out to a friend, who referred her to Dr. Kevin Kelly, a Los Angeles-based radiologist who had developed a new kind of breast cancer technology called the SonoCiné. The ultrasound-based machine can detect tumors as small as five millimeters.
Kelly informed Masters that she had dense breasts, which lack fat and make it difficult to detect tumors in traditional mammograms. With the SonoCiné — which uses a robotic arm to record ultrasound footage throughout the breasts and armpits — the doctor found invasive cancer in the lower left quadrant of Masters' left breast. No previous examination had detected the tumor, which Masters had removed at UC San Diego in a lumpectomy the next month.
For nearly the last seven years, Masters has advocated for a SonoCiné in San Diego County. On June 22, her demands were met when the Tri-City Medical Center in Oceanside welcomed the machine to its women's health center.
A donor and the Tri-City Hospital Foundation donated the $300,000 to purchase the technology, said Glen Newhart, president of the foundation. The machine is the first of its kind in San Diego and Orange counties.
Newhart explained that 40 percent of women have dense breast tissue and don't even know it until they have an examination. Further, the SonoCiné allows for a more accurate supplemental search for breast cancers, especially those in dense breasts and breasts that have implants. Both of those types of breasts can obscure cancer on the mammogram, according to the SonoCiné's website.
Newhart added that he anticipates that Tri-City will also offer 3-D mammography technology in the future, which would make the hospital the only medical center in the county to offer a "full spectrum" for women's health.
"For our patients and the women especially, [the SonoCiné] gives them another option," Newhart said. "If you have dense breast tissue, you're much more likely to develop breast cancer. ... This allows [our patients] to feel secure in having a supplemental screening technology that doesn't use additional radiation but yet can spot breast tumors as small as five millimeters. The earlier you catch it, the better your treatment options and, certainly, the better the outcome."
Dr. Jennifer Mayberry, a radiologist at Tri-City, said traditional mammography is only 85 percent sensitive "in the best of hands," and that sensitivity decreases significantly when it comes to dense breast tissue.
Additionally, 50 percent more cancers are detected when the SonoCiné is added to mammography screenings, she said.
Kelly, who visited Tri-City on June 22 for the hospital's grand opening of its SonoCiné, said if found at 10 millimeters or less, the odds of cancer requiring chemo are "pretty close to zero" in most cases.
Additionally, Kelly said the SonoCiné can take two-and-a-half minutes to complete, on average, depending on breast size. One of every 200 women screened will have breast cancer, Kelly estimated.
"That's a huge savings for women and for lives," said the radiologist, who detected his first breast cancers with the SonoCiné in 2000. "Chemo is no fun. ... Mammography has been the mainstay for 50 years. Before that, all we had was our hands. It did find a lot of small cancers; the problem was it didn't find them all."