Mammogram research to help fight against breast cancer

Thursday 29 March 2012
Blurred digital mammogram image
The University of Salford is leading a ground-breaking research project to reduce the number of blurred digital mammogram images and enhance the accuracy of breast screening programmes.

The NHS Breast Screening Programme screens around 1.6 million women annually. A mammogram (X-ray of the breast) is taken with the aim of discovering cancer at an early stage, saving an estimated 1,400 lives a year.

The plastic paddle used to apply pressure to the breast during a mammogram must be completely still or blurring of the image can occur, which may cause some women to be called back for a second time. This is undesirable because the women may feel discomfort and anxiety, a second dose of radiation is required and the NHS must fund the additional cost.

As only very slight movements in the paddle may cause blurred images, the University’s Professor Peter Hogg and consultant radiographer Judith Kelly of Chester Breast Imaging Unit enlisted the help of engineering students Gary McGeever and Carl Wilcock to explore possible solutions.

The students set their minds to the problem, designing motion detectors which can measure any movement in the paddle. Their ideas became reality when the specialist engineering company Mass Measuring Ltd built the instruments at no charge to the University.

Professor Hogg and Chester Breast Screening are now using the equipment to determine how factors such as speed, the application of pressure and thickness of the breast affect how the paddle works and whether it moves.

The results are likely to be used to produce the first set of precise technical guidelines for radiographers which will minimise paddle movement and reduce repeat mammograms.

Professor Peter Hogg of the School of Health Sciences said: “Salford is the only university in the UK which is researching the problem of image blurring. There is a very successful breast screening programme in this country but I believe it is possible to develop it even further. By working with Mass Measuring Ltd and Chester Breast Screening, our research has brought together the expertise to make this happen.”

Judith Kelly of Chester Breast Screening at the Countess of Chester Hospital said: “As someone who reports mammograms looking for cancerous abnormalities, the quality of the image is of great importance to me. Blurred images can be a problem, so we’re very excited about this research. We’re also grateful to the University of Salford for the interest and enthusiasm shown in initiating the project.”

Tony McGeever, Managing Director of Mass Measuring Ltd, said: “We are particularly pleased to be actively involved in this research. With our expertise in volumetrics and pressures, we hope we can further contribute to the project and help boost the success of the UK’s breast screening programme as a result.”

The University has received £1,000 from Chester Breast Screening and another £1,000 from Symposium Mammographicum towards the project.

To keep up to date with stories from the College of Health & Social Care go to our Facebook page.