New spectrographic technique could help improve breast cancer diagnosis

A new diagnostic procedure using spectroscopy could help determine whether microcalcifications spotted through mammography are cancerous, according to an article in the Dec. 24 online issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Microcalcifications can indicate cancer, but as many as 15 percent of core needle biopsies fail to retrieve the tissue that contains the microcalcifications. This means the patient will have to undergo a more invasive surgical procedure.

"If they don't get them on the first pass, they usually don't get them at all," said senior author Maryann Fitzmaurice, M.D., senior research associate and adjunct associate professor of pathology and oncology at Case Western Reserve University, in an article in MIT News. "It can become a very long and arduous procedure for the patient, with a lot of extra X-ray exposure, and in the end [one in five patients] still don't get what they're after."

In the method described in the article, researchers used a special type of spectroscopy called diffuse reflectance spectroscopy to analyze tissue a radiologist is about to biopsy. This method works by sending light towards the tissue and capturing and analyzing the light after it has interacted with the tissue.

In the study, researchers evaluated 203 tissue samples from 23 patients undergoing biopsies. According to the researchers, each of three types of breast tissue--healthy, those with microcalcifications, and those without--have different spectrographic signatures. By analyzing these different patterns the researchers were able to create a computer algorithm with which they were able to identify the tissues with a 97 percent success rate.

Further, the researchers said, the technique delivers information in seconds, allowing them to adjust the biopsy needle before removing tissue samples.

According to the article in MIT News, the researchers are now planning a study that will test the biopsy and spectroscopy setup in patients as the biopsies are being done.

To learn more:
- see the NAS article
- read the MIT article

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