Spectral Mammography Could Measure Breast Density

August 2, 2012

Spectral mammography could be used to accurately measure breast density, thus helping to identify women at high risk for breast cancer, researchers said.

Spectral mammography could be used to accurately measure breast density, thus helping to identify women at high risk for breast cancer, researchers said.

Spectral mammography can provide far more information than standard mammography by showing the image at two different energy levels, helping quantify breast density, according to Sabee Molloi, PhD, professor and vice chairman of research for the department of radiological sciences at the University of California, Irvine. Molloi compared the two techniques to the differences between color television and black and white.

“We’re working to develop a an accurate measure of breast density,” Molloi said in a teleconference in advance of this week's annual meeting of the American Association of Physicists in Medicine, where his early research was presented. “It should be simple, accurate, and most importantly, ready to implemented with the common mammography screening.”

A woman with extremely dense breasts has up to four times the risk of breast cancer as a woman with fattier breasts, reserachrers said. Reading images of denser breasts is a challenge using standard mammography, because tumors are harder to see.

Molloi and colleagues used spectral mammography to image four models of breasts, representing different thicknesses. They found that spectral mammpgraphy could measure volumetric breast density in a screening exam with an error rate of less than 2 percent. Researchers are planning pilot studies to test spectral mammography as part of regular screening.

“Everyone could benefit from this emerging imaging technology,” Molloi said. “It could become a standard of care and help identify high-risk women.”

The mammogram on the left is high density and the one on the right is low density. Image courtesy AAPM.