Cutting-edge prototype makes mammograms more effective, less painful

Thursday, November 16, 2023


A person in a gray suit and red striped tie poses for a photo with a mammography machine. He has gray hair parted to the side and is smiling.
Dr. Srinivasan Vedantham shows the new cone-beam breast CT prototype.


One glaring limitation of mammography, an x-ray screening tool for early detection and diagnosis of breast cancer, is that it provides a two-dimensional projection of a three-dimensional breast, which may lead to missed cancers or unnecessary recalls.

More than a decade in the making, University of Arizona Cancer Center member’s research is poised to revolutionize breast cancer screening. Srinivasan Vedantham’s new cone-beam breast CT prototype system installed at the University of Arizona Advanced Breast Imaging Center, produces superior images and alleviates the discomfort typically associated with mammograms.

“It does not require breast compression, provides high-resolution images, operates at radiation dose equal to a mammography screening, and takes only 10 seconds to scan each breast,” said Dr. Vedantham, PhD, a professor in UArizona Medical Imaging and Biomedical Engineering, director of Biomedical Imaging Innovation and Clinical Translation in Next-Gen CT, and director of the Office for Project Statistical and Design support in the department of Medical Imaging.

Dr. Vedantham said that in typical three-dimensional mammography, called digital breast tomosynthesis, it reduces but does not eliminate tissue overlap, called superposition, and it still requires uncomfortable breast compression. For cone-beam breast CT, the patient lays face down on the machine and places his or her breast in an opening within the 3D imager, and it does not require breast compression.

Dr. Vedantham said that in developing the cone-beam breast CT prototype there were several challenges, primarily because the components needed to build the system were not readily available.

“Working with vendors, we were able to improve on the technology and we currently have one of the most advanced prototypes available for clinical research,” Dr. Vedantham said.

He said that there are only five or six groups actively conducting research on cone-beam breast scanners in the world.

“Our research program is unique in that we cover the entire spectrum, from physics and engineering modeling, designing the system, and developing and fabricating the system in collaboration with industry,” Dr. Vedantham said. “We investigate advanced mathematical algorithms to identify the best quality images for radiologists, conduct clinical trials to demonstrate improvement, and translate the technology to the clinic for various breast imaging tasks.”

According to Dr. Vedantham, breast CT is FDA-approved for diagnostic imaging, and they are pursuing NIH funding opportunities to conduct a clinical trial to demonstrate its potential for breast cancer screening.

“Ultimately, cone-beam breast CT has the potential to become the primary imaging modality for screening, diagnosis, image-guided biopsy, and monitoring or predicting response to therapy,” he said.