Stacey Herkert has a family history of breast cancer so she makes sure to get a mammogram every year. "When my mom was diagnosed she made us promise to go annually for checkups, and we do." Like many women, the 54 year old has dense breast tissue, which can make screening for breast cancer challenging. 

"Women with dense breast tissue have more white glandular tissue on the mammogram, so the background appears white,” explains Dr. Mary Yamashita who is a professor of Radiology at the University of Southern California. “The problem is breast cancer also appears white on the mammogram, so it's more difficult to find a small, white cancer on a white background."

Herkert is taking part in a study at USC testing a new three-dimensional ultrasound, called SoftVue, to try to help doctors more accurately identify cancer tissue. The patient lies on their stomach and the breast is placed into a warm water bath.  In two to four minutes, the machine scans the entire breast using sound waves.  There's no radiation and no compression of the breast. Researchers are enrolling 10,000 patients for the study at eight sites across the country including at USC. Researchers are comparing patients' mammography results to the SoftVue scans to learn the machine's effectiveness.   "No exam is 100% but we want to be as close to 100% as possible."

"I'm hoping it will be just another thing I do every year as a precautionary measure to make sure I don't end up like my mom and end up having breast cancer,” says Herkert. If the technology is proven to be effective, it could eventually be used in addition to annual mammograms.

The study will be submitted to the FDA for approval.  Researchers are still looking for participants for the nationwide study. To learn more, log on to