Researchers at UCLA have announced a new technique that produces clearer 3-D images of breast tissue while using a lower dose of X-ray radiation than a traditional mammogram.
The higher-quality images are two to three times sharper than those created using current CT scanner technology. The researchers say that the new images may be able to detect breast tumors earlier and with greater accuracy. The research on the new technique is documented in a new study published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The new technique, developed by researchers at UCLA, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and Ludwig Maximilians University, uses a detection method called phase contrast tomography to X-ray breast tissue from multiple angles. That data is then passed through what UCLA is calling a breakthrough computing algorithm named equally sloped tomography (EST). 512 high-quality images are used by EST to reconstruct a 3-D images of a breast at a higher resolution than ever before, according to UCLA.
"The technology used in mammogram screenings has been around for more than 100 years," said Paola Coan, professor of X-ray imaging at Ludwig Maximilians University. "We want to see the difference between healthy tissue and the cancer using X-rays, and that difference can be very difficult to see, particularly in the breast, using standard techniques. The idea we used here was to combine phase contrast tomography with EST, and this combination is what gave us much higher quality 3-D images than ever before."
Women won't be getting these new 3-D mammograms any time soon, unfortunately. Alberto Bravin, managing physicist of the biomedical research laboratory at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, emphasized that this technology is still undergoing research.
"A high-quality X-ray source is an absolute requirement for this technique," said Bravin. "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. Many research groups are actively working to develop this smaller X-ray source. Once this hurdle is cleared, our research is poised to make a big impact on society."
(Images courtesy UCLA)