A new approach to breast cancer detection on the horizon

Breast Cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women in Australia, with over 800,000 mammograms currently being performed each year. Thanks to research being carried out at the Australian Synchrotron in Melbourne, breast cancer diagnosis may become more accurate, safer, and less uncomfortable for women.

An expert group of scientists from Sydney and Melbourne have been investigating a new and innovative way of using in-line phase-contrast computed tomography (PCT) to improve breast cancer detection and diagnosis.

Current mammography struggles to detect small changes in breast tissue, especially if it is dense – this is because dense and cancerous tissue both appears white on an x-ray. PCT involves a 12 second scan of the breast, where 1,800 images are taken to create a 3D map of the breast (as seen below). Dr Häusermann, Instrument scientist at the Australian Synchrotron, said that the total dose of radiation used is less than mammograms, and breast compression is not required.

3D images created using the in-line phase contract computed tomography (PCT)3D images created using the in-line phase contract computed tomography (PCT).

Whilst visiting the Australian Synchrotron campus, Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Hon. Karen Andrews MP said the research was vitally important.

 “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 research is being led by Professor Patrick Brennan of the University of Sydney and Dr Tim Gureyev of the University of Melbourne, with support from breast surgeon Dr Jane Fox and other Melbourne clinicians.

Funding from ANSTO and the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) will allow the research to continue over the next two years, with the teams now focussed on demonstrating the clinical usefulness of the technique. The technique will be tested on the first patients in 2020.

Professor Andrew Peele and Hon. Karen AndrewsProfessor Andrew Peele, Director of the Australian Synchrotron, ANSTO
and Hon. Karen Andrews MP, Minister for Industry, Science and Technology

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.”

“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,” Professor Peele said.

BreastScreen Victoria is always supportive of new technological advancements designed to improve the detection of cancer, and programs that lead to better health outcomes.