SNM: PET/MR prototype could improve breast cancer imaging

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A prototype breast imaging system combining PET and MRI technologies could greatly improve breast cancer imaging capabilities, according to a study presented on Monday at the 2009 SNM meeting in Toronto.

Although the system has not yet been tested on humans, initial results from the prototype indicate it produces a fusion of detailed PET and MRI images that should allow a more accurate classification of lesions in the breast.

"PET and MRI systems are both powerful, noninvasive tools for detecting breast cancer and evaluating treatment, but each of them also has weaknesses," said Bosky Ravindranath, research assistant working with the study's lead author David Schlyer, MD, at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y. "We believe that combining PET and MRI in a single system will eventually yield highly sensitive and specific breast cancer examinations while at the same time compensating for the shortcomings that exist when using only PET or only MRI."

Every year, approximately 180,000 women are newly diagnosed with breast cancer. Yet, the researchers said that many challenges remain in breast imaging, such as obtaining accurate images of dense breast tissue.

When completed, the dedicated breast PET-MRI system will consist of a modular 3D PET scanner that is inserted inside a dedicated breast MRI coil produced by Aurora Technologies. The investigators reported that the modularity of the PET system would allow for the scanner diameter to be adjusted according to patient breast size.

Researchers expect the combined modality scanner will provide anatomical information from the MRI to enhance the resolution provided by PET. At the same time, the predictive power of PET in identifying the type of tumor should be able to overcome MRI technology's traditionally high false-positive rates.

Based on these positive preliminary results, researchers expect to begin testing the system shortly with breast cancer patients.