National Cancer Imaging Research at Surrey

Tuesday 7 October 2008

Cancer Research UK and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) are investing £45 million over the next five years in a nationwide initiative that will see the development and introduction of the latest imaging technologies to help advances in basic and clinical cancer research. Cancer Research UK will invest up to £30 million and the EPSRC will contribute £15 million in an exciting new strategic initiative that will establish the UK as a world leader in cancer imaging research.

This large investment, which includes £3 million from the Medical Research Council (MRC) and at least £250,000 from the Department of Health for England, will help improve the detection, diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Four "cancer imaging centres" and "five cancer imaging programmes" will be funded.

The Royal Surrey County Hospital (RSCH), working with the University of Surrey, has been awarded one of the five programme grants of up to £2.5m for a five year programme of research into breast cancer imaging called OPTIMAM. The project establishes a multi-disciplinary and multi-centre consortium of radiologists, physicists and engineers lead by Professors Ken Young and Andy Nisbet at the Royal Surrey County Hospital and the University of Surrey.

Professor Ken Young is the lead investigator for the project and head of the National Co-ordinating Centre for the Physics of Mammography (NCCPM) run on behalf of the NHS Breast Screening Programme by the Department of Medical Physics, Royal Surrey County Hospital. NCCPM has a key role in ensuring the quality of the work of the NHSBSP and has a leading role in setting UK and European Standards for mammography systems. Professor Young is visiting professor in medical physics at the University of Surrey. Professor Andy Nisbet is Head of Medical Physics at the Royal Surrey County Hospital and Professor of Medical Physics at the University of Surrey.

The other partners in OPTIMAM are:-

  • Dr Kevin Wells, Medical Imaging Group, Centre for Vision Speech and Signal Processing (CVSSP), University of Surrey, Guildford
  • Dr Matthew Wallis, Breast Screening Unit, Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge
  • Dr Ros Given-Wilson, Breast Screening Unit, St George’s Hospital, London
  • Prof. Hilde Bosmans, University of Leuven, Belgium 

Breast cancer mortality has declined substantially over the last twenty years due to a combination of earlier detection (mainly due to mammography screening) and improved treatments. Despite this success it is recognised that cancer detection by mammography suffers from a number of limitations. The advent of new digital X-ray technology holds the prospect of solving some of these problems and improving early detection. The first phase of these technologies replaces analogue film with a variety of digital detectors yielding a digital projection image (2D). More sophisticated techniques are being developed that provide 3D information as slices through the breast. Clinical trials have shown that there may be substantial advantages in using these systems but their relative merits and how best to use them remains unclear. Clinical trials would be too expensive and time consuming to enable detailed comparisons between multiple systems or ways of operating those systems and another approach is needed to ensure that the new technologies are adopted in the most appropriate way.

Models based on physical measurements on imaging systems will simulate breast images initially for 2D mammography and later for 3D mammography. The appearance of cancers in these images will also be simulated using a 3D breast model in order to measure the performance of radiologists and computer aided detection systems in detecting cancers when different systems, radiation doses, beam qualities, and image processing are employed. This will enable the optimisation of the use of digital breast imaging technologies in a way that optimises cancer detection while maintaining radiation doses at acceptable levels. There is considerable potential for an improvement in breast cancer detection rates – particularly for younger women and for women with dense breasts.

The establishment of world leading research in cancer imaging at the Royal Surrey County Hospital and the University of Surrey should enhance clinical services for breast cancer patients throughout the UK and internationally. Specifically we hope this research will improve the early detection of breast cancers in the NHS Screening Programme. Such an improvement should lead to a greater mortality reduction and reduced anxiety from unnecessary recalls after the initial screening.

Media Enquiries

Peter La, Press Office at the University of Surrey, Tel: +44 (0)1483 689191, or Email mediarelations@surrey.ac.uk

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Expiry Date: Friday 8 January 2010 15:35:54
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