Technology : X-rays spot tell-tale haloes in breast scans

2019-02-27 10:19:03

By Michael Day THOUSANDS of women could be spared the agonising uncertainty of ambiguous breast scan results and unnecessary biopsies if a new mammography technique proves as effective as initial results suggest. Doctors at the Oxford University Medical School are testing the technique, which was developed by their colleagues in radiology. It relies on digital images from an X-ray scanner to reveal haloes surrounding the shadows that show breast lumps in conventional scans. The radiologists have found that when scanned from two different angles, the haloes around malignant lumps appear to have a constant thickness. In contrast, haloes around benign lumps vary in thickness, depending on the angle of the scan. The researchers do not yet know the reason for this difference. They are beginning to investigate which tissue causes the haloes in each case. Some 10 per cent of woman now screened for breast cancer in Britain are found to have breast lumps, and are referred for follow-up scans. “Wouldn’t it be great if we could tell women that we were 99 per cent sure that a lump was benign,” says Ralph Highnam of Oxford’s engineering department. Women over 50 are screened for breast cancer every three years in Britain. But up to a quarter of tumours are missed, while between 70 and 80 per cent of biopsies reveal lumps to be benign. Highnam hopes the new technique will improve these statistics. “But it’s early days yet,” he says. He also hopes that the system could allow the dose of potentially harmful X-rays used in the scan to be cut,