A new type of computerized tomography (CT) scan produces 3-D images of breast tissue while delivering a radiation dose that is 25 times smaller than current technology.  According to a paper published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS), scientists have declared that the new technique produces clearer, more reliable images than the techniques that are now widely available.

CT scans have been less widely used than mammograms in spite of their greater effectiveness at spotting masses within the breasts because of the risks posed to sensitive breast tissue by radiation.  A 2005 study by Cornell University researchers found that breast tissue is particularly vulnerable to the carcinogenic (i.e., cancer-causing) effects of ionizing radiation, the type used in CT scans.  As a result, the most effective means of spotting breast cancer is, ironically, the one most likely to result in future cancers.

A post at Examiner.com reported that when independent scientists were asked to evaluate the 3-D images produced by the new method, they "ranked the generated images as having the highest sharpness, contrast, and overall image quality compared to 3-D images of breast tissue created through other standard methods."

These scientists, who were not involved in the technique's development, came from "the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility ESRF (Grenoble, France), the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich (LMU, Cluster of Excellence MAP) and the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). The first authors are Yunzhe Zhao of UCLA and Emmanuel Brun of the LMU/ESRF."

Researchers hope to make the technique widely available, and that it will pave the way to a new era of early breast cancer detection and more effective treatment.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website lists breast cancer as the most commonly diagnosed form of cancer in U.S. women besides skin cancer.  In 2008, the most recent year for which statistics are currently available, some 210,203 women were diagnosed with breast cancer and 40,589 died of the disease.

The CDC said that early detection dramatically improves survival rates and recommends that women regularly self-test for signs of breast cancer and that they should ask their physician which types of tests are right for them, based on age, family history and other factors.

[image via Shutterstock]