Advanced imaging technique to improve breast cancer diagnosis

Friday, 05 October, 2018

Advanced imaging technique to improve breast cancer diagnosis

A new technique, called in-line phase-contrast computed tomography (PCT), is being prepared for clinical application in order to improve breast cancer detection and diagnosis.

The research is being conducted by a group of imaging scientists led by Professor Patrick Brennan of the University of Sydney and Dr Tim Gureyev of the University of Melbourne and uses the Imaging and Medical Beamline by researchers at ANSTO’s Australian Synchrotron with the support of instrument scientist Dr Daniel Häusermann.

The technique, due to be used on the first patients by 2020, is being developed because of the high error rate that still exists with current screening techniques. The method, which used convention X-rays, was pioneered by Melbourne researchers in the late 1990s, including Professor Keith Nugent and the late Dr Stephen Wilkins.

Around 30% of cancers are still missed by radiologists, and for patients with high breast density the missed cancer rate is over 50%. This can lead to late detection of the cancer and, regrettably, often fatal outcomes from metastasis.

Speaking at ANSTO’s Australian Synchrotron campus to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews MP said the research was vitally important for women throughout Australia. “Breast cancer is the most common cancer that affects women. There are currently over 800,000 mammograms performed in Australia each year,” Minister Andrews said.

“As many women will know, the experience of getting a mammogram can be uncomfortable and in too many cases the existing technology means cancers are missed.

“This research will mean better image quality, a more accurate diagnosis and a smaller radiation dose. Importantly, there will be no discomfort for patients as the breast compression process will no longer be necessary.”

The work is being supported by ANSTO and an NHMRC grant of $687,000 over three years, to ready the technique for use with the first patients by 2020.

“This investment highlights the federal government’s commitment to supporting world-leading research, which has real-world benefits for the community,” Professor Andrew Peele, Director of the Australian Synchrotron, ANSTO said. “This vitally important research, enabled by lead researchers using ANSTO’s world-class Synchrotron and our scientists, highlights the very real benefits that science and technology can deliver to the community,” Professor Peele said.

“This is the first application of the technique using synchrotron radiation in human patients, so there is a great deal of preparation and many things that have to take place before its use. Nonetheless, we are greatly encouraged by findings so far.”

A 3D animation of the screening process can be found here.

Image credit: ©

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