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Scherer, Kai, Braig, Eva, Ehn, Sebastian, Schock, Jonathan, Wolf, Johannes, Birnbacher, Lorenz, Chabior, Michael, Herzen, Julia, Mayr, Doris, Grandl, Susanne, Sztrókay-Gaul, Anikó, Hellerhoff, Karin and Pfeiffer, Franz (2016): Improved Diagnostics by Assessing the Micromorphology of Breast Calcifications via X-Ray Dark-Field Radiography. In: Scientific Reports, Vol. 6, 36991 [PDF, 2MB]

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Breast microcalcifications play an essential role in the detection and evaluation of early breast cancer in clinical diagnostics. However, in digital mammography, microcalcifications are merely graded with respect to their global appearance within the mammogram, while their interior microstructure remains spatially unresolved and therefore not considered in cancer risk stratification. In this article, we exploit the sub-pixel resolution sensitivity of X-ray dark-field contrast for clinical microcalcification assessment. We demonstrate that the micromorphology, rather than chemical composition of microcalcification clusters (as hypothesised by recent literature), determines their absorption and small-angle scattering characteristics. We show that a quantitative classification of the inherent microstructure as ultra-fine, fine, pleomorphic and coarse textured is possible. Insights underlying the micromorphological nature of breast calcifications are verified by comprehensive high-resolution micro-CT measurements. We test the determined microtexture of microcalcifications as an indicator for malignancy and demonstrate its potential to improve breast cancer diagnosis, by providing a non-invasive tool for sub-resolution microcalcification assessment. Our results indicate that dark-field imaging of microcalcifications may enhance the diagnostic validity of current microcalcification analysis and reduce the number of invasive procedures.

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