Kiwi software helping find breast cancer

Last updated 05:00 24/08/2012

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A Wellington company's software that makes cancer screening cheaper and more accurate will now be used permanently in New Zealand for the first time.

Matakina developed and markets the density measuring software, Volpara, which works with any X-ray machine on the market to locate tumours in women with dense breasts, which was previously difficult in a regular mammogram.

Women with higher density breast tissue only had a 50 per cent chance of tumours being detected in an X-ray compared with 98 per cent accurate detection for women with fattier breasts.

Yet those with dense breasts are four to six times more likely to develop cancer.

When radiologists using Volpara know how dense their patients' breast tissue is, they can advise which women would require an MRI.

Volpara is already in clinical use in the United States, South Korea and Malaysia and in a clinical trial in the Netherlands to become part of the national Dutch breast-screening system. It will be screening up to 1 million Dutch women a year at 67 sites.

This month marks its first New Zealand sale, with Auckland Breast Care Centre taking it on.

Matakina chief executive Ralph Highnam said it was rewarding to see Kiwi women would begin to benefit from the years of hard work that had taken place in New Zealand, where one in nine women get breast cancer.

He estimated 30-40 per cent of New Zealand women had dense breast tissue.

"One of the key things is when we start comparing breast density over time," Highnam said.

"If you have a woman in Auckland who walks in and has an X-ray done on one machine then two years later has another X-ray with a different machine, you couldn't compare those densities over time, but you can using Volpara.

"We're hopeful that it will start to detect the very early signs of breast cancer. Early detection is key to breast cancer survival.

"All younger women start out with very dense breasts, under the age of 30.

"But basically the glandular tissue is milk-producing tissue and after menopause it starts to involute down but for some women it does not. Density not changing is in itself a risk factor.”

The software had to go through intensive testing before it got approval from the United States Food and Drug Administration in late 2010.

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