Dr. Jessica A. Guingrich, medical director at the center, said trial of the device, the SomoVu, began last fall.
It provides an automated way of imaging the breast with ultrasound, said Guingrich, who is with Central Illinois Radiological Associates and is principal investigator for the research. "In general, standardizing the screening makes it more objective and will give data easier to compare," she said.
Ultrasound devices traditionally have been hand-held and dependent on the skill of the technologist operating them, she said. They are time-consuming, "user-dependent," she said, and therefore somewhat subjective and can leave "room for error."
The SomoVu involves a screen placed over the breast with a scanner that slides across the breast, providing ultrasound pictures that can be read on a computer from different angles.
"It's more of a standardized set of images," Guingrich said. "They can be looked at from different angles" and present "a volume of information" for the radiologist to examine.
Mammograms are the standard way of screening for breast cancer, but they sometimes miss cancers in breasts with dense tissue, she said. Ultrasound can locate tumors that mammograms miss.
Ten percent of tumors are missed by mammograms, she said.
"We know that mammograms are not perfect. This can be offered for extra screening," she said. "Ultrasound sees through the tissue in a different way."
SomoVu does not replace mammography, but offers a more efficient way to provide ultrasound screening, she said.
"The image quality is really beneficial," she said. "I've been very impressed."
The trial aims to prove its use along with screening mammograms to detect cancers, she said.
The breast center is among only six sites in the United States running trials of the device, which already has been approved by the FDA for sale.
The two-phase trial first tested whether SomoVu finds the images as effectively as hand-held ultrasound devices, and whether the quality of the image is improved, she said.
That phase is complete, and the data is being evaluated, she said. The results will be published.
In the second phase, which began in January and is ongoing, SomoVu screening is offered to women with dense breast tissue who had normal mammograms to see whether it finds tumors that the mammograms missed, she said.
Guingrich said she encountered the device at a medical conference a couple of years ago.
"St. Francis is interested in cutting-edge technology," she said.
Joseph Rondinone, vice president for clinical affairs for U-Systems of San Jose, Calif., the maker of the SomoVu, said the $300,000 device has already been sold to a few hospitals.
"We can sell it, but we're studying it," he said.
U-Systems is a Silicon Valley start-up company, he said, and this is its only product so far. It's designed only for breast imaging.
The company says it has invested nearly $45 million in developing the SomoVu system.
But the computer-dependent technology has the potential for other medical applications, Rondinone said.
The trial at the breast center at the OSF St. Francis Centers for Health may screen as many as 600 patients, Guingrich said. To qualify for participation, a woman age 18 or older must have had a normal mammogram within 30 days, she said.
The SomoVu screening is free, she said, but if it detects a tumor, subsequent treatment and additional screening are not free.