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Low Dose, 3-D Breakthrough In Breast Scans?

October 23, 2012
Written by: , Filed in: Breast Imaging
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A new breast imaging technique produces CT-quality 3-D images with a lower radiation dose than conventional mammography. But one big technical hurdle remains before it can move into clinical use.

Alberto Bravin, PhD, senior author of a study describing the new technique, explained the problem: “A high-quality X-ray source is an absolute requirement for this technique. While we can demonstrate the power of our technology, the X-ray source must come from a small enough device for it to become commonly used for breast cancer screening.”

Dr. Bravin is managing physicist of the biomedical research laboratory at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France. He was quoted in a news release from UCLA, where researchers helped develop the new technique.

“Many research groups are actively working to develop this smaller X-ray source,” Dr. Bravin said. He added:

Once this hurdle is cleared, our research is poised to make a big impact on society.

The new technique involves three main components:

  • High-energy X-rays, which pass through tissues more easily than lower-energy rays, meaning the radiation dose is lower.
  • Phase contrast imaging, a detection method that uses fewer X-rays to obtain the same image contrast as older methods. Instead of measuring intensity, it detects differences in oscillation caused when an X-ray passes through different types of tissue.
  • Equally sloped tomography, an algorithm that creates 3-D CT images from the X-ray data.

The resulting images (the UCLA news release includes a video) are two to three times sharper than those produced by conventional mammography but involve a lower radiation dose. And the dose is up to 25 times less than that of conventional CT.

“While commonly used,” said study co-author Jianwei Miao, PhD, referring to mammography, “the limitation is that it provides only two images of the breast tissue, which can explain why 10 to 20 percent of breast tumors are not detectable on mammograms. A three-dimensional view of the breast can be generated by a CT scan, but this is not frequently used clinically, as it requires a larger dose of radiation than a mammogram.

“It is very important to keep the dose low to prevent damage to this sensitive tissue during screening.”

Dr. Miao is a UCLA professor of physics and astronomy and leader of the Coherent Imaging Group at UCLA.

An article published online Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences describes the new technique.

Related seminar: New Horizons in Breast Imaging

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