'Friendly' Mammogram in Development

The new method makes breast imaging less risky, and can lessen false-positive readings.

A majority of all women will receive a mammogram during their lifetime. These tests, along with self-examination, have proven useful in detecting breast cancer in the very early stages.

Researchers at the Technology University of Eindhoven (TU Eindhoven) are currently working to develop a more advanced mammogram approach that can improve patient outcomes.

They call their approach “breast-friendly,” since it does not use radiation and is able to create 3D images of the breast, according to a study published by Scientific Reports.

In traditional mammograms, the breast is squeezed between 2 plates, which can be painful and risky. Since they use X-rays, the radiation could also potentially increase the cancer risk. Additionally, these tests cannot determine whether any lumps discovered are cancerous or benign.

More than two-thirds of abnormalities discovered by mammograms are false-positives, and do not turn out to be cancerous. These factors leave much room to improve the imagining technique.

The novel method uses inaudible sound waves (echography) to create 3D images of the breast, which requires the patient to lie on a table with their breast contained in a bowl, according to the study. The resulting image is able to determine if the anomalies detected are cancerous, and can prevent the worry and costs associated with false-positives.

The new method is similar to the new method TU Eindhoven researchers created for prostate cancer detection. For this method, the physician injects the patient with microbubbles.

The harmless microbubbles are tracked as they travel through the blood vessels of the prostate through an echoscanner. Since the formation of chaotic microvessels is characteristic of cancer, the technology allows the cancer to be detected easily.

This method performed well, and is now being tested in multiple countries. However, this method of standard echography had not previously been beneficial for breast cancer since the breast presents excessive movement and size to be accurately imaged, according to the study.

The researchers created a variation of echography, and the method is known as the Dynamic Contrast Specific Ultrasound Tomography.

Echography with microbubbles utilizes that the bubbles vibrate in the blood at the same frequency as the sound from the echoscanner, and twice that frequency (second harmonic), the researchers said. Through identifying the vibration, the location of the microbubbles is also known.

Researchers discovered that the second harmonic was slightly delayed by the bubbles. The more bubbles that are reached by the sound from the echoscanner, the more delay there was.

By quantifying this delay, researchers can locate the bubbles without disturbance since the harmonic that is created by body tissue is not delayed. This method can only be used if the sound from the echoscanner is captured on the other side, which makes it a beneficial measure to image the breast, according to the study.

The researchers are currently creating and international research team to conduct preclinical trials of this method. They estimate that the use in practice is at least 10 years away.

This technology will most likely not be used alone, but as a combination approach to increase the visualization of the breast tissue and improve patient outcomes, the study concluded.