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Refinements to NIR spectroscopy during clinical MRI improve breast cancer diagnostics

Engineers and radiologists at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth University, USA, are developing new approaches for diagnostic imaging for breast cancer using MRI with NIR spectroscopy, as reported in Academic Radiology (doi: 10.1016/j.acra.2013.09.025).

Combined MRI/NIR spectroscopy may benefit women whose mammogram showed an abnormality and requires further testing to rule out cancer. The test would be conducted before an invasive biopsy to look for tumours. For the new method to work successfully in routine patient care, MRI/NIR must adapt to an individual’s body size as well as accommodate a range of cup sizes. The equipment must also mobilise and maintain contact with the breast.

The MRI/NIR approach may offer specific advantages to women with dense breasts, who are more likely to develop and die from breast cancer. A dense breast is harder for a radiologist to “see through” when using traditional imaging equipment. Standard breast screening is effective 77–97% of the time in a normal breast, but only 63–89% with dense breasts.

Biomedical engineers from the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth University developed a new, flexible, convenient and comfortable approach. They designed a set of eight light transmitting cables that can be adjusted to surround the breast with light tension. A woman lies on her stomach and the breast hangs pendant through the holes of the MRI/NIR breast coil. The procedure is nearly identical to clinical MRI.

Eight women participated in a trial of the new design. “We found that the new interface allowed us to target lesions more effectively than ever before”, said Michael Mastanduno, corresponding author of the study. “Set up time was faster and images were of higher quality.”

This approach also offers increased coverage of the chest, giving providers improved visibility for “hard to see” areas, such as the outside area of the breast near the armpit.

As a next step, the researchers will test MRI/NIR spectroscopy in women with suspicious lesions.

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