New imaging technology promises better breast cancer detection in early stages

Scientists at the Research & Education Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center (REI) are developing a new breast imaging diagnostic tool which will afford clinicians greater opportunities for detecting early stage breast cancers with greater certainty and help patients avoid biopsy in some cases. This detection method identifies breast lesions utilizing a radiopharmaceutical diagnostic imaging technology known as Tc-99 Sestamibi (MIBI) scintimammography. The procedure is based on a radioactive isotope being injected into a vein in the arm. Once absorbed into the body, the isotope can be seen by a group of special detectors, called gamma cameras, “marking” certain biological processes to locate a tumor.

Iraj Khalkhali, MD, principal investigator at REI, believes that the number of false negative (i.e., missed tumors) readings could be reduced if the limitations of contemporary gamma cameras were overcome. In one of his studies, Dr. Khalkhali found that three out of four false negatives were in the middle part of the breast and out of range of close camera contact. Dr. Khalkhali is currently pursuing research on improving scintimammography image quality through the design and development of a compact, thin gamma camera that affords easier access to all nodes and potential breast lesion sites.

“Access to breast lesions in the internal quadrants is especially important because these tumors may disseminate toward the internal mammary chain even when no axillary node is invaded. Easy access to all nodes and potential breast lesion sites will improve image quality and can be expected to improve the diagnostic accuracy of scintimammography, ” said Dr. Khalkhali. “Although mammography is currently the standard early diagnostic screening tool, scintimammography has proven to be a highly effective adjunct in identifying lesions missed by mammography – particularly in women with dense breast tissue, low suspicion lesions on mammograms, pre-menstrual women with lumps in their breasts and women with locally advanced breast cancer,” he added.

Dr. Khalkhali has long been recognized as an innovator and pioneer in advancing breast imaging techniques. He is founder and first president of the Nuclear Radiology Section of the Los Angeles Radiological Society. A graduate of the University of Tehran School of Medicine, he served his residency in diagnostic radiology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY, and the University of California, Davis. He is the recipient of the County of Los Angeles Commendation for Excellence in Women’s Health for 2001, winner of the Outstanding and First Place Resident Research Award 1997 for a paper presented on “Detection of Axillary Lymph Node Metastasis of Breast Carcinoma with Technetium 99m Sestamibi Scintimammography”, and holds a patent for the scintigraphy guided stereotaxic localization technique of breast tumors.

The Research & Education Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, located on the campus of Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, California, is a leading independent, not-for-profit biomedical research institute with an international reputation for scientific discovery, the training of physician-scientists and the provision of community service programs. It is an affiliate of both the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and has an annual budget of $58 million. The Institute traces its roots back to 1952, when researchers and physicians joined forces with the UCLA School of Medicine on the campus of what was then known as Harbor General Hospital to conduct a handful of research studies. Today, more than 1,000 research projects and clinical trials are being conducted at REI, advancing scientific understanding in order to improve medical outcomes and promote innovation in such areas as autoimmune disorders, cancer, cardiovascular disease, developmental disorders and other pediatric health problems, diabetes, infectious disease, inherited disorders, male contraception, vaccine evaluation and research, and various aspects of women’s health.

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