Like cleaning the lenses of a foggy pair of glasses, scientists are now able to use a technique developed by UCLA researchers and their European colleagues to produce three-dimensional images of breast tissue that are two to three times sharper than those made using current CT scanners at hospitals. The technique also uses a lower dose of X-ray radiation than a mammogram.
These higher-quality images could allow breast tumors to be detected earlier and with much greater accuracy. One in eight women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer during her lifetime. The most common breast cancer screening method used today is called dual-view digital mammography, but it isn't always successful in identifying tumors, said Jianwei (John) Miao, a UCLA professor of physics and astronomy and researcher with the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA.
Recognizing these limitations, the scientists went in a new direction. In collaboration with the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in France and Germany's Ludwig Maximilians University, Miao's international colleagues used a special detection method known as phase contrast tomography to X-ray a human breast from multiple angles. They then applied equally sloped tomography, or EST — a breakthrough computing algorithm developed by Miao's UCLA team that enables high-quality image-reconstruction — to 512 of these images to produce 3D images of the breast at a higher resolution than ever before. The process required less radiation than a mammogram.