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Breast Cancer Imaging

When a patient goes to a doctor’s office, hospital or clinic to get an MRI scan, he or she trusts that the medical imaging technologies are working properly. NIST and its partners developed tools to benchmark those tests, to support medical decisions and ensure patient trust.

Two breast phantoms
Credit: NIST
The new breast phantom consists of two components. The one at left is designed to provide a standard for measuring proton spin relaxation time, which varies with different kinds of tissue. The one at right provides references for imaging diffusion.

NIST partnered with industry to develop standards and measurement tools for improving medical images used in patient diagnoses. Advanced medical imaging technologies such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are critical to diagnosing diseases such as cancer. Doctors use medical images to find diseased cells and tissue, which helps them make a diagnosis. However, a diagnosis based on an MRI scan is only as good as the quality of the image—if the equipment isn’t calibrated or working properly, the diagnosis may be wrong. NIST helps to improve the quality of medical images by making “phantoms,” which are testing and calibration standards made to simulate the properties of biological materials.

NIST recently worked with Boulder, Colorado-based High Precision Devices, Inc., to create a new breast cancer screening phantom that is compatible with MRI systems from most manufacturers. MRI is recommended as a complement to conventional mammography to detect breast cancer, particularly for women with the highest risk factors. A breast phantom poses a unique set of challenges because the contents must correctly and reliably mimic distributions of fat and tissue.

Breast phantoms from the first production run are now in use, and are employed in a large, multisite clinical trial. Further improvements to the design are expected soon. Before long, they may be used in your local clinic.