MR and optical imaging combine to spot signs of breast cancer

April 19, 2007

Using MRI and near-infrared optical imaging together may improve the chances of detecting breast cancer, according to research published this week in the journal Optics Letters. In a pilot study involving a 29-year-old woman with a ductal carcinoma, researchers at Dartmouth College used a combination of the two techniques to document increased hemoglobin content, low oxygen saturation, and high water content -- each an indicator of cancerous tissue.

Using MRI and near-infrared optical imaging together may improve the chances of detecting breast cancer, according to research published this week in the journal Optics Letters. In a pilot study involving a 29-year-old woman with a ductal carcinoma, researchers at Dartmouth College used a combination of the two techniques to document increased hemoglobin content, low oxygen saturation, and high water content - each an indicator of cancerous tissue.

The paper, published in the April 15 issue, describes the use of contrast-enhanced MR using gadolinium to identify the breast area to be targeted with near-infrared light imaging. Using this dual technique provided information on tissue function, such as whether a region of the breast contains a large amount of blood and is rapidly consuming oxygen, as is typical with early cancers.

Keith Paulsen, a professor of engineering at Dartmouth College, and colleagues at the Dartmouth Medical School noted that MR provided the targeting information needed for the infrared technique to home in on the region of interest, thereby providing high-resolution functional images of breast cancer.

The Dartmouth team has been working on the project for about four years with support from the National Cancer Institute. Their initial experience with the combination of MR and optical imaging raises hopes that the approach will help clinicians determine which tissues are malignant before performing a biopsy.

They next will collect more data from cases using volunteers who have breast abnormalities leading to biopsy. Employing the new dual procedure, they will image the subjects before biopsy and then compare the results with histological findings. The researchers plan to complete approximately 50 such cases over the next several years.