Factors Associated With Ultrasound Color Doppler Twinkling by Breast Biopsy Markers: In Vitro and Ex Vivo Evaluation of 35 Commercially Available Markers

Christine U. Lee, Nicholas B. Larson, Matthew W. Urban, A. Lee Miller, Susheil Uthamaraj, Mara A. Piltin, James W. Jakub, Asha A. Bhatt, James F. Greenleaf, Gina K. Hesley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND. Targeted axillary lymph node dissection after neoadjuvant systemic therapy (NST) for breast cancer depends on identifying marked metastatic lymph nodes. However, ultrasound visualization of biopsy markers is challenging. OBJECTIVE. The purpose of our study was to identify biopsy markers that show actionable twinkling in cadaveric breast and to assess the association of actionable twinkling with markers’ surface roughness. METHODS. Commercial breast biopsy markers were evaluated for twinkling artifact in various experimental conditions relating to scanning medium (solid gel phantom, ultrasound coupling gel, cadaveric breast), transducer (ML6-15, 9L, C1-6), and embedding material (present vs absent). Markers were assigned twinkling scores from 0 (confident in no twinkling) to 4 (confident in exuberant twinkling); a score of 3 or greater represented actionable twinkling (sufficient confidence to rely solely on twinkling for target localization). Markers were hierarchically advanced to evaluation with increasingly complex media if showing at least minimal twinkling for a given medium. A 3D coherence optical profiler measured marker surface roughness. Mixed-effects proportional odds regression models assessed associations between twinkling scores and transducer and embedding material; Wilcoxon rank sum test evaluated associations between actionable twinkling and surface roughness. RESULTS. Thirty-five markers (21 with embedding material) were evaluated. Ten markers without embedding material advanced to evaluation in cadaveric breast. Higher twinkling scores were associated with presence of embedding material (odds ratio [OR] = 5.05 in solid gel phantom, 9.84 in coupling gel) and transducer (using the C1-6 transducer as reference; 9L transducer: OR = 0.36, 0.83, and 0.04 in solid gel phantom, ultrasound coupling gel, and cadaveric breast; ML6-15 transducer: OR = 0.07, 0.18, and 0.00 respectively; post hoc p between 9L and ML6-15: p < .001, p = .02, and p = .04). In cadaveric breast, three markers (Cork, Professional Q, MRI [Flex]) exhibited actionable twinkling for two or more transducers; surface roughness was significantly higher for markers with than without actionable twinkling for C1-6 (median values: 0.97 vs 0.35, p = .02) and 9L (1.75 vs 0.36; p = .002) transducers. CONCLUSION. Certain breast biopsy markers exhibited actionable twinkling in cadaveric breast. Twinkling was observed with greater confidence for the C1-6 and 9L transducers than the ML6-15 transducer. Actionable twinkling was associated with higher marker surface roughness. CLINICAL IMPACT. Use of twinkling for marker detection could impact preoperative or intraoperative localization after NST.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)358-370
Number of pages13
JournalAmerican Journal of Roentgenology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2023


  • breast biopsy marker
  • color Doppler ultrasound
  • localization
  • twinkling artifact ultrasound

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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