WASHINGTONThe imaging methods presently used to detect, diagnose, and stage breast tumors have significant flaws, as shown by the roughly 75% of breast biopsies that return normal results. These "completely unnecessary" procedures impose "huge costs" and "unnecessary trauma," said Craig S. Levin, PhD, assistant professor of radiology, University of California, San Diego, and the Department of Nuclear Medicine, San Diego VA Medical Center.
Although positron emission tomography (PET) imaging offers a potential alternative, existing PET systems have significant drawbacks as breast imaging devices, he said. Designed for whole-body coverage, they are large and entail "difficult geometry" in capturing the breast. Studies currently are expensive and result in "nonoptimal" breast images.
One potential solution could be a compact dedicated PET device using an improved sensor system in a "very compact" camera, he said at the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation 5th Annual Conference on Innovations in Quality Care. The camera could be placed "right up against the breast," he said, and could also "move to other areas," such as the axilla. Dr. Levin’s team have built a laboratory at the San Diego VA Medical Center dedicated to this project. They currently are developing a "detector" for sensing and localizing positron energy.
Early results show that the new detector will produce spatial resolution five times better than existing PET scanners. Such high resolution suggests that the detector might eventually find currently undetected very small tumors.
Dr. Levin emphasized that "a lot of this is hypothetical" at present. He also stressed that the detector is not "meant to replace present technology," but rather to provide "an additional tool when present methods are inconclusive."