Ultrasound is used for breast cancer detection as a technique complementary to mammography, the standard screening method. Current practice is based on reflectivity images obtained with conventional instruments by an operator who positions the ultrasonic transducer by hand over the patient’s body. It is a non-ionizing radiation, pain-free and not expensive technique that provides a higher contrast than mammography to discriminate among fluid-filled cysts and solid masses, especially for dense breast tissue. However, results are quite dependent on the operator’s skills, images are difficult to reproduce, and state-of-the-art instruments have a limited resolution and contrast to show micro-calcifications and to discriminate between lesions and the surrounding tissue. In spite of their advantages, these factors have precluded the use of ultrasound for screening. This work approaches the ultrasound-based early detection of breast cancer with a different concept. A ring array with many elements to cover 360◦ around a hanging breast allows obtaining repeatable and operator-independent coronal slice images. Such an arrangement is well suited for multi-modal imaging that includes reflectivity, compounded, tomography, and phase coherence images for increased specificity in breast cancer detection. Preliminary work carried out with a mechanical emulation of the ring array and a standard breast phantom shows a high resolution and contrast, with an artifact-free capability provided by phase coherence processing.
This paper presents and analyses the results of a simulation of the acoustic field distribution in sectors of a 1024-element ring array, intended for the diagnosis of female breast tissue with the use of ultrasonic tomography. The array was tested for the possibility to equip an ultrasonic tomograph with an additional modality - conventional ultrasonic imaging with the use of individual fragments (sections) of the ring array. To determine the acoustic field for sectors of the ring array with a varying number of activated ultrasonic transducers, a combined sum of all acoustic fields created by each elementary transducer was calculated. By the use of MATLAB software, a unique algorithm was developed, for a numerical determination of the distribution of pressure of an ultrasonic wave on any surface or area of the medium generated by the concave curvilinear structure of rectangular ultrasound transducers with a geometric focus of the beam. The analysis of the obtained results of the acoustic field distribution inside the ultrasonic ring array used in tomography allows to conclude that the optimal number of transducers in a sector enabling to obtain ultrasound images using linear echographic scanning is 32 ≤ n ≤ 128, taking into account that due to an increased temporal resolution of ultrasonic imaging, this number should be as low as possible.
The paper presents an analysis of the results of ultrasound transmission tomography (UTT) imaging of the internal structure of a breast elastography phantom used for biopsy training, and compares them with the results of CT, MRI and, conventional US imaging; the results of the phantom examination were the basis for the analysis of UTT method resolution. The obtained UTT, CT and MRI images of the CIRS Model 059 breast phantom structure show comparable (in the context of size and location) heterogeneities inside it. The UTT image of distribution of the ultrasound velocity clearly demonstrates continuous changes of density. The UTT image of derivative of attenuation coefficient in relation to frequency is better for visualising sharp edges, and the UTT image of the distribution of attenuation coefficient visualises continuous and stepped changes in an indirect way. The inclusions visualized by CT have sharply delineated edges but are hardly distinguishable from the phantom gel background even with increased image contrast. MRI images of the studied phantom relatively clearly show inclusions in the structure. Ultrasonography images do not show any diversification of the structure of the phantom. The obtained examination results indicate that, if the scanning process is accelerated, ultrasound transmission tomography method can be successfully used to detect and diagnose early breast malignant lesions. Ultrasonic transmission tomography imaging can be applied in medicine for diagnostic examination of women’s breasts and similarly for X-ray computed tomography, while eliminating the need to expose patients to the harmful ionising radiation.