Measurement of Tumor Extent and Effects of Breast Compression in Digital Mammography and Breast Tomosynthesis

University dissertation from Medical Radiation Physics, Lund University

Abstract: Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer affecting women in the western countries. Today x-ray digital mammography (DM) of the breast is commonly used for early detection of breast cancer. However, the sensitivity of mammography is limited, mainly due to the fact that a 3D volume is projected down to a 2D image. This problem can be partially solved by a tomographic technique. Breast tomosynthesis (BT) reduces the detrimental effect of the projected anatomy.

Tumor size is an important predictor of prognosis and treatment effect. We hypothesized that the tumor outline would be better defined in BT and therefore tumor measurement in BT would be more accurate compared with DM. The results showed that breast tumor size measured on BT correlated better with the size measured by the pathologists on the surgical specimens compared with measurement on DM.
Breast compression is important in mammography both to improve image quality and to reduce the radiation dose to the breast, but it also has a negative consequence as some women refrain from mammography due to the pain associated with the examination. Since BT is a 3D technique, it was hypothesized that less breast compression force can be applied. The results indicated that less compression force is possible without significantly compromising the diagnostic quality of the image and that the patient comfort was improved.

An applied breast compression force as used in mammography results in a pressure distribution over the breast. The pressure distribution was assessed using thin pressure sensors attached to the compression plate. The results showed that the pressure distribution was heterogeneous in appearance and varied widely between different breasts. In almost half of the subjects most of the pressure was over the juxtathoracic part of the breast and the pectoral muscle with little or no pressure over the rest of the breast.

Another concern regarding breast compression is the question whether the resulting pressure might damage tumors, causing a shedding of malignant cells into the blood system. Peripheral venous blood samples were drawn before and after breast compression and analyzed for circulating tumor cells. The study found no elevated number of circulating cancer cells in peripheral blood after breast compression. Future analysis of samples from veins draining the breast are needed to study if circulating tumor cells are being trapped in the lung capillaries.

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