Digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT) is an imaging technique that allows a volumetric reconstruction of the whole breast from a finite number of low-dose two-dimensional projections obtained by different X-ray tube angles, with a geometric principle very similar to that applied in stratigraphic technique.
Although direct digital mammography (FFDM - Full Field Digital Mammography) has improved the sensitivity of the method, especially in dense breasts, the number of false negatives (FN) is still high, largely due to the presence of dense tissue that may affect lesions conspicuity: the mammogram is in fact a ”summation image" that displays on a single plane a more or less visible representation of any structure crossed by the X-ray beam between input and output surfaces.
The theoretical solutions to the problem exist: the main among them is MRI, but this is not the radical solution because it is expensive, time-consuming, and in most cases not available in the same Department.
What is needed instead is a solution that is:
- a) affordable (an add-on on the price of a mammogram),
- b) fast (the radiologist must be able to perform the complementary examination immediately after evaluating the mammographic images)
- c) practical (the examination should be performed in the same physical area by the same operators),
- d) simple (a new method would require technicians and radiologists to learn new procedures for examination and assessment).
The phenomena of summation and subtraction, potentially responsible for the production of false positive findings (FP) and for masking of true positive findings (TP), led in 1930 Alessandro Vallebona to create and implement the “stratigraphy” (hereinafter referred to as “tomography”), that is a complementary radiodiagnostic technique aimed at realizing of analytical images, namely representative just of the structures including in the pre-selected layers of the concerned region. Such technique was not without its critics, which include:
- limited contrast resolution allowed by the intrinsic shading of the image;
- presence of parasitic shadows (i.e. background noise);
- high total dose delivered in multiple sequential acquisitions of considered useful layers.
Thanks to the flat-panel technology, a reinterpretation in digital key of Vallebona’s tomography has been proposed as a new tool for early detection: the DBT-Digital Breast Tomosynthesis.
Digital breast tomosynthesis
In DBT the X-ray tube makes an arc, during which was acquired a series of images, each of which is delivered a dose equal to a fraction of that provided in a standard mammogram. During the acquisition any detector element receive in time sequence related information on each object volume element. The set of digital projections thus contains a complete structural information on all the object layers in the form of raw data. These are sent to a computer, where by appropriate reconstruction algorithms will reconstruct the order and the correct summation of the projection values which allows, as final result, to obtain sections comparable to those of conventional tomography, but exempt from the critical previously explained.
Tomosynthesis, therefore, does not provide direct projection images, but reconstructed images of any individual layers through several available algorithms, more or less efficient, each aimed to removing from reconstructed slice the upper and lower layers "structured noise".
Reconstruction algorithms used in the first generation of devices (including FBP-Filtered Back Projection algorithm, ideal for 360° CT acquisitions reconstruction , but not optimal in DBT reconstruction, in which it generates noise and artifacts) were today abandoned for iterative algorithms, such as the SART -Simultaneous Algebraic Reconstruction Technique, and the MLEM - Maximum Likelihood Expectation Maximization, which can improve imaging quality through the final reduction of streaking artifacts, as well the increasing of contrast-to-noise ratio, thus improving the visibility of microcalcifications and skin edge.
DBT allows the detection of a greater number of expansive lesions and a better morphological analysis of masses and architectural distortions, thanks to the contrast of findings greater than the background, given by the more shade structures belonging to the upper and lower layers, and then to the smaller amount of noise. It is thus exceeded one of the limits of two-dimensional imaging, which is the masking of lesions caused by superimposition of normal structures.
The possibility of separating different layers suggests a possible reduction of false negatives and false positives due to overlapping.
According to early trials data, DBT is designed to offer the conspicuity of a higher percentage of breast cancers than conventional mammography, reducing false negative (FN) percentage at an estimated value around 15%. More recent studies indicate about 30% increased DBT sensitivity and specificity compared to FFDM with a recalls reduction in screening by approximately 40%.
A further advantage of DBT is given by the lack of need for operator training (the breast is positioned just like a conventional mammography in MLO and / or CC projection) and for the radiologist (as he continues to perform diagnosis from images with mammograms features).
It’s still ongoing a study comparing the clinical performance of FFDM in two projections (CC + MLO) and those of DBT in a single projection (MLO) in compliance with dose constraint. Until it will be demonstrated at least the clinical “non inferiority” of DBT compared to FFDM, it is not reasonable a dose increasing in DBT. For this reason, the dose is restrained so as not to exceed the dose of a two-projections FFDM.
Features common to every DBT systems are the execution mode (MLO projection), acquisition time (10-20 sec) and reconstruction time (between 40 and 180 sec), slices thickness (1mm), display mode (single slice, or slab cine loop), chance to perform standard mammograms and FFDM/DBT real time selection with breast compression in place.
We can find, instead, a great variability in the acquisitions number take-over (between 13 and 25) and the acquisition angle (between 15 ° and 50 °), significant features in image quality that in DBT depends on the dose and the number of projections and acquisition angle as well the number of exposures: so, if a narrow angle with little exposure allows a fast but low-resolution 3D acquisition, a wide angle with so many exposures provide a good resolution 3D but at a low-speed acquisition with consequent means of motion artifacts and quality deterioration of reconstructed images.
An interesting alternative is represented by variable geometry (V-DBT), which offers the highest 3D resolution at maximum speed acquisition due to a non-uniform sampling.
In V-DBT 13 images are taken through the 40° tube oscillation movement, the central one with 50% of the total dose delivered (the same as that required for a single mammography projection), and the remaining 50% unevenly split among the twelve remaining acquisitions.
Reconstruction algorithm in V-DBT system takes full advantage of any information provided in the 0° projection, which is basically a standard mammogram characterized by high contrast, which also provides valuable information for the microcalcifications visualization and their identification by 3D CAD, not yet available, but certainly among the future developments related to DBT.
In conclusion, DBT is definitely able to improve dense breasts imaging using a two- projections mammography dose, preserving high spatial resolution and quick workflow typical of FFDM. DBT can improve specificity in screening ruling out overlapping structures, facilitating so small lesions identification.
Iodinated contrast media may add more detailed information about blood supply dynamics of previously identified lesions , even compared to those obtained with CEDM - Contrast-enhanced digital mammography.
- 1. Lo et al, Duke University
- 2. Moore et al. MGH
- 3. Poplack et al., Hanover, USA
- 4. Pacifici S., "Tomosintesis de Geometria Variable", 2011, ISBN: 13-797-84-613-8965-0
- 5. Vecchio S, Albanese A, Vignoli P et-al. A novel approach to digital breast tomosynthesis for simultaneous acquisition of 2D and 3D images. Eur Radiol. 2011;21 (6): 1207-13. doi:10.1007/s00330-010-2041-y - Pubmed citation
Related Radiopaedia articles
Breast imaging and pathology
- breast screening
- breast imaging and the technologist
- forbidden (check) areas in mammography
- craniocaudal view
- mediolateral oblique view
- additional (supplementary) views
- true lateral view
- lateromedial oblique view
- late mediolateral view
- step oblique views
- spot view
- double spot compression view
- magnification view
- exaggerated craniocaudal (axillary) view
- cleavage view
- tangential views
- caudocranial view
- bullseye CC view
- rolled CC view
- elevated craniocaudal projection
- caudal cranial projection
- 20° oblique projection
- inferomedial superolateral oblique projection
- Eklund technique
- normal breast imaging examples
- digital breast tomosynthesis
- breast ultrasound
- breast ductography
- breast MRI
- breast morphology
- architectural distortion
- asymmetry in breast size
- breast density
- breast implants
- fibrocystic change
- free silicone breast injections
- parenchymal patterns in breast imaging
- tubular breasts
- breast pathology
- malignant lesions
- breast adenocacrinoma
- ductal breast carcinoma
- ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)
invasive ductal carcinoma
- extensive intraductal component
- invasive ductal carcinoma not otherwise specified
- medullary carcinoma of the breast
- mucinous carcinoma of the breast
- Paget disease of the breast
- tubular carcinoma of the breast
- malignant papillary lesions of the breast
- lobular breast carcinoma
- ductal breast carcinoma
- adenoid cystic carcinoma of the breast
- apocrine carcinoma of the breast
- breast cancer metastases
- breast lymphoma
- breast sarcoma
- inflammatory carcinoma of breast
- intracystic breast cancer
- male breast cancer
- malignant phyllodes tumor
- metastases to the breast
- metaplastic carcinoma the breast
- breast adenocacrinoma
- breast cancer
- borderline breast disease / high risk breast lesion
- benign lesions
- adenosis of the breast
- benign papillary lesions of the breast
- breast cyst
- breast hematoma
- breast hamartoma
- breast lipoma
- ductal adenoma of the breast
- epidermal inclusion cysts of the breast
- fat necrosis of the breast
- granular cell tumor of the breast
- lymphocytic mastitis
- mammary fibromatosis
- oil cyst
- phyllodes tumor
- post-surgical breast scar
- post-radiation breast changes
- post-traumatic fibrosis
- pseudoangiomatous stromal hyperplasia (PASH)
- tubular adenoma
breast calcifications (approach)
- microcalcifications within breast
- macrocalcifications within breast
- lobular calcification within breast tissue
- intraductal calcification within breast tissue
- milk of calcium within a breast cyst
- vascular calcification in breast tissue
- skin (dermal) calcification in / around breast tissue
- suture calcification within breast tissue
- stromal calcification within breast tissue
- artifactual calcification from outside the breast
- suspicious breast calcifications
- vascular lesions
- systemic disease
- classification systems
- malignant lesions
- breast cancer staging