Like a simulator used to train fledgling surgeons, the virtual breast – a 3D, computer generated phantom – could let medical professionals practice ultrasound elastography in the safety of the laboratory.
As only a minority of suspicious mammograms actually lead to a cancer diagnosis, the researchers said ultrasound elastography can be used to pinpoint possible tumours throughout the body, including the breast.
“Ultrasound elastography could be an excellent screening tool for women who have suspicious mammograms, but only if the results are properly interpreted,” the study said.
“It uses imaging to measure the stiffness of tissue and cancer tissues are stiff,” said Jingfeng Jiang, a biomedical engineer at the Michigan Technological University, US.
While some of those images can be breathtakingly clear, others are not that precise.
“Depending on who does the reading, the accuracy can vary from 95 percent to 40 percent,” Jiang added.
As practice could improve better interpretation the results, the researchers developed the virtual breast using data from the Visible Human Project, which gathered thousands of cross-sectional photos from a female cadaver.
It mimics the intricacy of the real thing, incorporating a variety of tissue types and anatomical structures, such as ligaments and milk ducts.
Clinicians can practice looking for cancer by applying virtual ultrasound elastography to the virtual breast and then evaluating the resulting images, the researchers stressed.