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A New Gamma Camera Technique for the Detection of Small Breast Tumors

tudy co-author. Yet women who have dense breasts are four to six times more likely to develop breast cancer, and more functioning breast tissue is available in which disease can occur, she says.

Conventional gamma cameras cannot be easily adapted for breast imaging. Instead, the investigators used new, small semiconductor-based gamma cameras and incorporated them into a new breast imaging system. Images obtained with these gamma cameras are not affected by dense or fatty tissue. In the procedure, women are injected with a small amount of the radioactive drug sestamibi that preferentially travels to tumors, which absorb the substance. These women then are seated in front of the device, which looks like “a strange mammography unit,” Dr. O’Connor says. Each breast is lightly compressed between the gamma cameras with just enough pressure to keep it from moving for 5 to 10 minutes while several images are taken. “It is much more comfortable for women, because a force of only 15 pounds is used, compared to the 45-pound force compression needed to take a mammogram,” he says.

The image usually shows low, but some, absorption of the sestamibi throughout the breast. In areas of cancer, the amount of drug absorption is significantly increased by the cancer. Although some benign conditions such as fibroadenomas will occasionally absorb the drug, creating a false-positive result, the researchers believe that the error rate is less than the approximately 10 percent rate found with traditional mammography.

The research team used this innovative dual-head gamma camera system to scan 100 patients who had suspicious breast lesions that were small, with a diameter of 2 centimeters (four-fifths of an inch) or less. Eighty-two cancers were later identified at surgery in 54 patients. The gamma camera detected 76 of the cancers, giving it a 93 percent success rate in these cases. Some were missed, either because the breast was not properly positioned
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