New Technique May Provide Better, Clearer Mammograms
WebMD News Archive
March 2, 2000 (New York) -- An experimental technique provides better images
of the breast than standard mammography and may detect tumors that would
otherwise be missed, researchers report in the March issue of
In their study, the researchers compared digital mammography -- which, like
conventional mammography, uses X-rays -- to the experimental technique, called
diffraction enhanced imaging (DEI). DEI still depends on the use of X-rays, but
with some modifications aimed at making the image clearer. The scientists
looked at seven human breast cancer specimens. There were two different types
of breast tumors: infiltrating lobular cancer, which is the second most common
type of invasive breast cancer, and infiltrating ductal cancer.
Etta Pisano, MD, one of the co-authors of the study, calls the images done
with DEI "exquisite." In most of the cases, DEI gave a better picture
than did digital mammography. In some cases, the DEI revealed more cancer than
suspected; in others it showed that areas suspected of being cancer were
actually thickened breast tissue or tumors surrounded by thickened breast
tissue. The DEI is particularly good at detecting these latter tumors because
it can show differences in tissue density that standard X-ray mammography
Pisano, who is a professor of radiology at the University of North Carolina
at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, says that breast imaging can be compared to
a pair of stockings. "All the little fibers are all running in the right
direction when you have normal-looking stockings. Then you get a snag and all
of a sudden all the little threads are all going every which way," she
says. The goal of mammography is to find the "snags," which are
findings characteristic of breast cancer.
"The advantage of [DEI] may be that if we can see the lesion
characteristics better, then maybe we can see it earlier," Pisano says.
"But that is speculation right now and it's too premature to say."
Currently, the practicality of DEI is uncertain because the machine used is
so large. Although there are hopes of making the technology portable, Pisano
says that there is a long way to go to make that a reality.
"At this point we don't even know if we can do it on patients," she
tells WebMD. "We are working actively to try to adapt it to a clinical
device, but it's not trivial and we have a bunch of technical problems to solve
to get it from what it is now to a clinical device. I think we can do it, but
it hasn't happened yet."