Supplemental breast cancer-screening ultrasonography in women with dense breasts: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Br J Cancer. 2020 Aug;123(4):673-688. doi: 10.1038/s41416-020-0928-1. Epub 2020 Jun 12.


Background: Mammography is not effective in detecting breast cancer in dense breasts.

Methods: A search in Medline, Cochrane, EMBASE and Google Scholar databases was conducted from January 1, 1980 to April 10, 2019 to identify women with dense breasts screened by mammography (M) and/or ultrasound (US). Meta-analysis was performed using the random-effect model.

Results: A total of 21 studies were included. The pooled sensitivity values of M alone and M + US in patients were 74% and 96%, while specificity of the two methods were 93% and 87%, respectively. Screening sensitivity was significantly higher in M + US than M alone (risk ratio: M alone vs. M + US = 0.699, P < 0.001), but the slight difference in specificity was statistically significant (risk ratio = 1.060, P = 0.001). Pooled diagnostic performance of follow-up US after initial negative mammography demonstrated a high pooled sensitivity (96%) and specificity (88%). The findings were supported by subgroup analysis stratified by study country, US method and timing of US.

Conclusions: Breast cancer screening by supplemental US among women with dense breasts shows added detection sensitivity compared with M alone. However, US slightly decreased the diagnostic specificity for breast cancer. The cost-effectiveness of supplemental US in detecting malignancy in dense breasts should be considered additionally.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast Density
  • Breast Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging*
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Early Detection of Cancer
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mammography / methods*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Ultrasonography, Mammary / methods*