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Breast cancer screening: Clearer images with radiation-free mammography


Preventive check-up: Gentle breast imaging with radiation-free mammography
Breast cancer is the cancer with the highest death rate among women in Germany, but by no means all women go to mammography screening. According to experts, breast cancer can be successfully treated in most cases if diagnosed early. In a new research project, breast examinations are to be significantly improved.

Cancer with the highest death rate
Breast cancer is the cancer with the highest death rate among women in Germany. Nationwide, around 17,000 die of it every year and around 70,000 fall ill each year. According to the German Society for Senology (DGS), around 80 percent of women who are ill can now be successfully treated. A lot depends on an early diagnosis. Since 2002 women in this country have had the opportunity to take part in the mammography screening free of charge. In a new research project, breast examinations are to be significantly improved in the future.

Not all women participate in the breast cancer screening program
In Germany, women aged 50 to 69 can participate in the breast cancer screening program free of charge. However, only about every second goes to mammography screening.

Women are often afraid of the examination - it is not entirely painless. While it is known that the examination does not offer a guarantee, more than 17,000 carcinomas have been detected by mammography screenings within one year.

Since February 2017, the University Medical Center Freiburg has been leading a project in which magnetic resonance imaging, MRI for short, is to be significantly improved for breast examinations.

More detailed conclusions about the condition of the fabric
"The aim is to develop an additional device for MRI that allows signal differentiation ten times stronger than current clinical MRI systems," the clinic wrote in a message.

This should make it possible to draw much more detailed conclusions about the condition of the tissue. This is particularly important in breast cancer diagnosis.

The experts hope that the radiation-free procedure could supplement or even replace the existing standard method of X-ray mammography in the long term.

Advanced MRI procedure
The three-year project is being carried out in cooperation with the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) and the University Hospital Erlangen.

In the current project phase, the aim is to investigate how the method can be technically implemented for use in humans in order to further develop the device into a prototype that can be used in patients in a second phase.

“With the MRI process that we have further developed in this project, detailed information about the content, change and shape of individual cells can be collected. This makes it possible to calculate very precisely which cellular changes have occurred in a suspicious tissue, such as a tumor, ”said Dr. Maxim Zaitsev, research group leader at the Clinic for Radiology - Medicine Physics of the University Clinic Freiburg.

Technical feasibility is being examined
To make the technology fit for clinical use, the scientists led by project manager Dr. Zaitsev now has an accessory called a high performance diffusion probe.

In addition to the usual, uniform MRT magnetic field, this probe is intended to generate a further, very strong, spatially variable magnetic field. This significantly increases the informative value and accuracy of the images.

A basic design has already been developed in preliminary studies, "Now we are testing the technical feasibility of the approach and would like to demonstrate patient safety," says Dr. Zaitsev.

The basis of the imaging used by the scientists is a special MRI procedure: the diffusion-weighted MRI. The movement of water molecules in the tissue is characterized.

Doctors are already using this method every day in clinical diagnostics, for example for stroke or cancer. However, the accuracy and sensitivity is not yet high enough to draw conclusions about microscopic structures. (ad)

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