Investigation of physical processes in digital x-ray tomosynthesis imaging of the breast
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Early detection is one of the most important factors in the survival of patients diagnosed with breast cancer. For this reason the development of improved screening mammography methods is one of primary importance. One problem that is present in standard planar mammography, which is not solved with the introduction of digital mammography, is the possible masking of lesions by normal breast tissue because of the inherent collapse of three-dimensional anatomy into a two-dimensional image. Digital tomosynthesis imaging has the potential to avoid this effect by incorporating into the acquired image information on the vertical position of the features present in the breast. Previous studies have shown that at an approximately equivalent dose, the contrast-detail trends of several tomosynthesis methods are better than those of planar mammography. By optimizing the image acquisition parameters and the tomosynthesis reconstruction algorithm, it is believed that a tomosynthesis imaging system can be developed that provides more information on the presence of lesions while maintaining or reducing the dose to the patient. Before this imaging methodology can be translated to routine clinical use, a series of issues and concerns related to tomosynthesis imaging must be addressed. This work investigates the relevant physical processes to improve our understanding and enable the introduction of this tomographic imaging method to the realm of clinical breast imaging. The processes investigated in this work included the dosimetry involved in tomosynthesis imaging, x-ray scatter in the projection images, imaging system performance, and acquisition geometry. A comprehensive understanding of the glandular dose to the breast during tomosynthesis imaging, as well as the dose distribution to most of the radiosensitive tissues in the body from planar mammography, tomosynthesis and dedicated breast computed tomography was gained. The analysis of the behavior of x-ray scatter in tomosynthesis yielded an in-depth characterization of the variation of this effect in the projection images. Finally, the theoretical modeling of a tomosynthesis imaging system, combined with the other results of this work was used to find the geometrical parameters that maximize the quality of the tomosynthesis reconstruction.