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46. Tumor Detection - Nifty 50


Research funded by NSF has the potential to help improve the lives of women suspected of having breast cancer.

The move from film-based mammography to digital mammography is on the horizon. The advantage of digital mammography is its ability to locate cancerous signs using lower doses of radiation.

Researchers at the National Cancer Institute conclude digital mammography holds great promise for the detection and diagnosis of breast cancers.

The digital advantage

Researchers have developed a method for comparing the quality and precision of traditional mammograms to the new digital counterparts. These researchers believe there is mounting evidence that digital mammography will be superior to analog film methods.

A primary goal of NSF-funded research has been to develop standards for evaluating the reliability of digital images. These new standards are expected to help facilitate the detection of small breast cancers and microcalcifications, or benign calcium deposits, in breast tissue.

Digital mammography is believed to control the quality of reading a mammogram in real time and thus help speed the reading and analysis of mammograms from a few days to the same day the procedure is conducted.

Help from astronomy

Additionally, astronomers share the same challenge as radiologists in trying to read mammograms: they must pinpoint critical spots against a cluttered background.

Radiologists search images for microcalcifications as signs of breast cancer, images that look very much like an image in the sky that astronomers seek to discern. This unique synergy between astronomers and cancer researchers has generated new software that allows radiologists greater ability to scrutinize mammograms for telltale signs of breast cancer.

This particular link between astronomy and radiology resulted from an NSF grant that allowed astronomers and radiologists to collaborate on using astronomical computer software (originally created to look at highly crowded regions of the sky where millions of stars appeared on a single image) to scan digitized mammograms.

When this software is applied to the examination of mammograms, it essentially removes much of the background clutter in the image and makes it relatively simple to detect microcalcifications. This technique has been able to locate microcalcifications, which may be a sign of cancer.

The software may eventually be tested in other medical areas, such as searching images from cancer biopsies for distinctive patterns made by different kinds of cancer cells.

Original publication date: April 2000

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