Current breast imaging modalities have the disadvantages of being expensive (MRI), using harmful radiation while not being able to handle dense breast tissue (X-ray), or giving low imaging contrast while being observer dependent (Ultrasound). We are developing photoacoustic mammography ( ‘pammography’) as a potential alternative for imaging the breast without harmful radiation and without painful compression, and at reasonable cost. Pammography, combined with ultrasound imaging, has the potential to image the entire breast, and to provide both structural and functional information. In pammography, the breast is illuminated with intense but very short light pulses. Wherever these pulses are absorbed, they will locally generate ultrasound. Based on these ultrasound waves, a 3D image can be made of light absorbing structures, such as blood vessels. The ability to visualize blood makes photoacoustics a potential method for imaging breast cancer, since malignant breast tumors and their surroundings contain a lot of blood. Also, information can be obtained regarding the blood oxygenation in the tissue. With our first prototype, PAM1, we have shown that pammography has a good sensitivity, both in non-dense and dense breasts. For the specificity, no conclusions can be drawn yet.
We are currently developing a new instrument, PAM2, which will be faster and more patient friendly than PAM1. After transfer to MST Oldenzaal, it will be tested on an increasingly wider defined patient group. Eventually, conclusions must be drawn regarding the specificity and sensitivity for screening, also including women with dense breast tissue, for whom x-ray is not suitable. Furthermore, the use of pammography for high risk women, and for monitoring neoadjuvant therapy, will be investigated.
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