Researchers Work To Eliminate Painful Mammograms


The day isn't here yet, but perhaps in the near future women will say goodbye to painful mammograms. Researchers at Clemson University, along with those at the University of Bremen in Germany, are working on a diagnostic imaging technique that should make painful mammograms a mere memory.

The diagnostic technique is called diffuse optical tomography (DOT), and it has the ability to create high-resolution images by scattering infrared and visible light. This imaging technique can allow clinicians to detect early stage breast cancer without the use of irradiation and also without depending on what for some women is an experience they want to avoid: a painful mammogram.


Although mammograms can be uncomfortable for many women, about 10 percent report that they are painful. Painful mammograms are often related to fibrocystic changes that are common in the breasts of about half of all women at some point in their lives, although the degree of discomfort and pain varies. In addition, many women reportedly put off or avoid having a mammogram because of anxiety, breast tenderness, or worries that the procedure will be painful.

The investigative team is currently working on improving the resolution of DOT so it can detect smaller breast cancers. So far this has proved challenging, because DOT involves a scattering of light, whereas x-rays follow straight lines. The researchers are developing equations that will help them improve resolution until they can detect cancers as small as 1 millimeter.

Along with providing women with an alternative to painful mammograms, the DOT technique eliminates false positive and negatives associated with mammography X-rays. The researchers also note that DOT could someday be performed at home by patients themselves. DOT may also be used as part of other diagnostic procedures where biomedical imaging is needed.

Clemson University release, October 6, 2009
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