SPECTROSCOPY/BREAST CANCER: Light-emitting cables enable MRI/NIR approach to breast cancer assessment

A new approach that combines magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) with near-infrared (NIR) spectroscopy could spare women with suspicious mammogram results from invasive biopsies to look for tumors. The noninvasive method promises specific benefit to women with dense breasts (which are harder for radiologists to analyze with traditional imaging equipment) who are more likely to develop and die from breast cancer.

An overview of the MRI/NIR spectroscopy system
An overview of the MRI/NIR spectroscopy system. The NIR spectroscopy system is housed in the MRI control room (a) and light is piped into the MRI suite for patient imaging using fiber-optic cables (b). A combined MRI/NIR spectroscopy breast coil (c) makes simultaneous MRI and NIR spectroscopy imaging possible. (Image courtesy of the Thayer School of Engineering/Dartmouth College)

Prior approaches for MRI/NIR spectroscopy used parallel plates and relied on custom molds for each patient. Biomedical engineers from the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College (Lebanon, NH), working with radiologists, developed a more flexible, convenient, and comfortable approach. They designed a set of eight light-transmitting cables that can be adjusted to surround the breast with light tension. For the patient, who lies on her stomach, the procedure is nearly identical to clinical MRI.

Eight women participated in a trial of the new design.1 "This work is a huge improvement on previous designs of MRI/NIRS systems," said Michael Mastanduno, corresponding author of a paper describing the study. "The new interface allowed us to target lesions more effectively than ever before." He added that setup time was faster and images were of higher quality. The approach also offers increased coverage of the chest, giving providers improved visibility for tissue typically difficult to see, such as the area near the armpit.

As a next step, the researchers will test MRI/NIR spectroscopy in women with suspicious lesions.

1. M. Mastanduno et al., Acad. Radiol., 21, 2, 141–150 (2014); doi:10.1016/j.acra.2013.09.025.

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