Dense Breasts Supplemental Testing: Is The Automated Breast Ultrasound For Me?

A Supplemental Test for Dense Breasts

Automated breast ultrasound (ABUS) is a newer ultrasound technique, which tends to be used as a supplementary technique in the evaluation of patients with dense glandular breasts. Approximately 40% of women in the US have dense breasts and are at an increased risk of developing breast cancer, compared to patients with fatty breasts. Patients who have dense breasts are also 6-8 times more likely to get breast cancer, which comprises 71% of newly diagnosed breast cancer.

In most women, a mammogram is about 85% sensitive at detecting early breast cancers; however, in women who have dense breasts, that sensitivity drops to 65%. This means ⅓ of women who have a regular mammogram may be missed in the detection of early breast cancer. In extremely dense breasts, that risk increases to 1 out of 2 cancers being missed on regular mammograms.

Advantages of The Automated Breast Ultrasound

Some of the great advantages of ABUS testing is that it has decreased operator- dependence, and high reproducibility. This means that the images allow for breast lesion location, exact size measurements, and characterizations which can be helpful for follow-up and clinical surveillance. ABUS testing is also free of radiation; it is a relatively quick exam (under 10 minutes) and can save money and the patient’s time to return for further imaging.

Disadvantages of The Automated Breast Ultrasound

There are a few disadvantages to the ABUS test, and that can include missing peripheral lesions in larger-breasted patients and difficulty in accessing the axilla and lymph nodes. This is why a regular mammogram is still indicated in conjunction with the 3D ABUS testing. 

In summary, ABUS is a newer imaging technique that has advantages and disadvantages; however, studies show promising results in the early detection of breast cancer in patients with dense breasts. According to an article published in the European Journal of Radiology, adding 3D automated breast ultrasound (ABUS) to your routine mammogram can detect 2.4 additional cancers per 1000 women.  If you are interested in adding this test to your annual mammogram, please discuss it with your provider at your next yearly exam.  We’re here to help.

In health,


Deborah Collins, PA-C



1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8400952/

2) PowerPoint sent to all UPH providers by Radiology 

3) Eur J of Radiol. 2016 85:9: 1554-1563