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High-resolution 3D micro-CT imaging of breast microcalcifications: a preliminary analysis

Inneke Willekens123*, Elke Van de Casteele4567, Nico Buls23, Frederik Temmermans58, Bart Jansen58, Rudi Deklerck58 and Johan de Mey23

Author Affiliations

1 In vivo Cellular and Molecular Imaging Lab (ICMI), Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), Brussels, Belgium

2 Department of Radiology, Universitair Ziekenhuis Brussel, Brussels, Belgium

3 Medische Beeldvorming en Fysische Wetenschappen (BEFY), Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), Brussels, Belgium

4 Vision Lab, iMinds, Universiteit Antwerpen, Antwerp, Belgium

5 Department of Future Media and Imaging (FMI), iMinds, Ghent, Belgium

6 Medical Image Computing, ESAT/PSI, iMinds, KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium

7 Future Health Department, iMinds, Ghent, Belgium

8 Department of Electronics and Informatics (ETRO), Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), Brussels, Belgium

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BMC Cancer 2014, 14:9  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-14-9

Published: 6 January 2014



Detection of microcalcifications on mammograms indicates the presence of breast lesion, and the shapes of the microcalcifications as seen by conventional mammography correlates with the probability of malignancy. This preliminary study evaluated the 3D shape of breast microcalcifications using micro-computed tomography (micro-CT) and compared the findings with those obtained using anatomopathological analysis.


The study analyzed breast biopsy samples from 11 women with findings of suspicious microcalcifications on routine mammograms. The samples were imaged using a micro-CT (SkyScan 1076) at a resolution of 35 μm. Images were reconstructed using filtered back-projection and analyzed in 3D using surface rendering. The samples were subsequently analyzed by the pathology service. Reconstructed 3D images were compared with the corresponding histological slices.


Anatomopathological analysis showed that 5 of 11 patients had ductal breast carcinoma in situ. One patient was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma.

Individual object analysis was performed on 597 microcalcifications. Malignant microcalcifications tended to be thinner and to have a smaller volume and surface area, while their surface area-to-volume ratio was greater than that of benign microcalcifications. The structure model index values were the same for malignant and benign microcalcifications.


This is the first study to use micro-CT for quantitative 3D analysis of microcalcifications. This high-resolution imaging technique will be valuable for gaining a greater understanding of the morphologic characteristics of malignant and benign microcalcifications. The presence of many small microcalcifications can be an indication of malignancy. For the larger microcalcifications, 3D parameters confirmed the more irregular shape of malignant microcalcifications.

Breast cancer; Biopsies; X-ray micro-CT; Microcalcifications; 3D morphological analysis