3-D CT scan technique has potential for breast cancer diagnosis

A multidisciplinary team of scientists reports that it has developed a new method of producing 3-D X-ray images with a significantly reduced radiation dose.

According to an article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last week, the new method produces 3-D diagnostic computed tomography (CT) images with a spatial resolution that is two to three times higher than current scanners, but at a radiation dose that is 25 times lower.

The multidisciplinary team includes physicists, radiologists and mathematicians from the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility ESRF (Grenoble, France), the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich (LMU, Cluster of Excellence MAP) and UCLA.

CT as a technique is not routinely used to diagnose breast cancer because of concerns about radiation exposure to the breast, the researchers said. But the new method--which incorporates high-energy X-rays, a detection method called "phase contrast imaging," and the use of a mathematical algorithm called "equally sloped tomography--allows for using CT for the early diagnosis of breast cancer.

According to the researchers, tissue is less transparent to high-energy X-ray, which lowers dose, while phase contrast imaging produces more images with few X-rays to obtain the same image contrast. And EST requires one-fourth of the radiation dose required to obtain the same image quality.

"This new technique can open up the doors to the clinical use of computed tomography in the breast diagnosis, which would be a powerful tool to fight even better and earlier against breast cancer", said Maximilian Reiser, Director of the Radiology Department at LMU, in an announcement.

Still, the technology won't be available for clinical use in the near future, since its implantation requires an X-ray source small enough to be used for breast cancer screening, the researchers said. "Many research groups are actively working to develop this device and once this hurdle is cleared, the new X-ray technique is poised to make a big impact on society," lead author Emmanuel Brun of LMU said.

For more:
- see the study abstract
- read the announcement

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