Interpreting ABUS exams takes less than 3 minutes for radiologists of all experience levels

Automated breast ultrasound (ABUS) offers improved breast cancer screening for patients with dense breast tissue and could provide specialists with a significant improvement over handheld screening ultrasound. However, some clinicians worry it may take radiologists too long to interpret ABUS exams, making it less than ideal for population-based screening.  

A new study in Academic Radiology aimed to address these concerns. The authors studied data from 99 women who received digital screening mammography followed by bilateral ABUS from March 2013 to December 2014. All patients had either “heterogeneously dense” or “extremely dense” breast tissue, as defined by the American College of Radiology. The average patient age was 56.2 years old. More than 9 percent of the patients had a history of breast cancer. Three breast radiologists with varied levels of experience with ABUS interpreted the exams.

“The primary objective of this study was to calculate the average interpretation time of ABUS examinations by radiologists of varied experience levels, while secondarily measuring the learning curve (eg, rate of improvement) of the least experienced radiologist interpreting ABUS examinations,” wrote lead author Ashley I. Huppe, MD, University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, and colleagues.

Overall, the mean interpretation time was 2 minutes for the novice radiologist, 2.6 minutes for the intermediate radiologist and 2.1 minutes for the advanced radiologist.

“Although there was no significant difference between the advanced and the novice readers, the intermediate reader demonstrated a significantly longer mean interpretation time at 2.6 minutes compared to the other two readers,” Huppe et al. wrote. “In addition to having the shortest mean interpretation time, the novice reader was observed to have the greatest improvement when measured across subsequent interpretations, with a significant decrease in interpretation times of 3.1 seconds for every 10 ABUS examinations interpreted.”

Callback rates were 3 percent for the novice radiologist, more than 15 percent for the intermediate radiologist and more than 7 percent for the advanced radiologist. The group’s average callback rate was 8.4 percent.

“ABUS has the potential to be a significant advancement for adjunct screening of dense breasts, although until its widespread adoption, questions regarding ABUS examination interpretation times in a clinical setting will continue to arise,” the authors wrote. “In summary, our study results support other prior studies' conclusions that screening ABUS interpretation times are short and similar to (or less than) those of combined 2D/3D mammography and may be of benefit for those practices considering acquisition of this technology. Additionally, our results suggest a learning curve for ABUS interpretation, similar to other technologies.”