Great news for the end of Breast Cancer Awareness Month! Scientists say that they have developed a technology to produce 3D X-ray breast images with a radiation dose much lower than the currently used 2D radiography. This new method enables the production of 3D diagnostic computed tomography (CT) images with a spatial resolution 2-3 times higher than present hospital scanners, but with a radiation dose about 25 times lower.

A multidisciplinary team comprised of physicists, radiologists, and mathematicians from the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) Grenoble, France, the Ludwig Maximilians University, Munich, Germany, and the University of California at Los Angeles say that Synchrotron X-rays at beamline ID17, the medical station of the ESRF, have been used to test the technique which, once deployed in hospitals, will make CT scans a diagnostic tool to complement currently used dual view digital mammography. The results of their research are published in the online Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

While early detection contributes to an improved prognosis and results in reduced breast cancer mortality, current mammography technology only provides two images of the breast tissue, which can explain why 10% to 20% of breast tumors are not detectable on mammograms. By using a new approach the scientists combined high energy X-rays, a special detection method called “phase contrast imaging,” and the use of a sophisticated novel mathematical algorithm, known as “equally sloped tomography” (EST) to reconstruct the CT images from X-ray data. Tissues are more transparent to high energy X-rays and therefore less dose is deposited (a factor of 6 in radiation dose reduction). Phase contrast imaging allows the production of images using fewer X-rays to obtain the same image contrast. Finally, the method needs 4 times less radiation to obtain the same image quality.

The team X-rayed a human breast at multiple different angles using phase contrast tomography and applied the EST algorithm to 512 images to produce higher resolution 3D images of the organ than ever before and at a lower dose than a mammogram.