User Stories

Working with DTU to improve breast cancer detection

DTU Space – Denmark’s National Space Institute - and Kromek are collaborating to develop a new generation of 3D scanners for breast cancer using advanced and very accurate cadmium zinc telluride (CZT) detector technology called 3D CZT that was first developed for high energy space exploration.

DTU Space and Kromek are collaborating to improve breast cancer diagnosis

Kromek is working in collaboration with DTU Space at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) to develop new detector electronics and geometry for use with Kromek’s cadmium zinc telluride (CZT) crystals..

DTU Space – Denmark’s National Space Institute – are contributing with advanced and very accurate detector technology called 3D CZT that has been developed for high energy space exploration. This technology can detect and characterize high-energy photons from gamma rays in space with high precision.

The problem with mammography

Currently, mammography remains the best and the most cost-effective method to detect breast cancer at an early stage. However, mammography suffers from poor sensitivity (up to 25% of cancers turn out to not be cancers) and poor specificity (13% of patients are told they are cancer-free when in reality they have developed a tumour). All in all, only 78 % of all women screened are accurately diagnosed through mammography. The picture looks even more gloomy for younger women who naturally tend to have denser breasts, with accuracy falling to 75%. This is because the effectiveness of mammography is significantly limited by how dense a woman’s breast tissue is. The greater the density of the breast tissue, the more difficult it is for the radiologist to accurately interpret the mammogram and rule out the existence of breast cancer.

Molecular Breast Imaging helps solve this problem

The MBI scanner works this way: a short-lived, radioactive tracer substance is injected into the bloodstream of the person to be examined. The tracer will then concentrate in a breast tumour and emit high-energy gamma rays (photons) from there. A detector placed around the breast registers the photons. From the derived data a very accurate image of the tumour is created. Since gamma photons are not being absorbed when they pass through the breast tissue (which is the case with X-ray based technology being used today) the resulting images will be of high quality even for women with high breast tissue density.

From exploring space to detecting cancer

DTU and Kromek are working on a new scanner to be developed called a 3D Molecular Breast Imager (3D MBI). It enables more precise and certain diagnosis of breast cancer tumours than is possible with the X-ray technology being used today. It will, for example, be possible to identify small tumours and their position much more accurately than today. Detection will also be more accurate when examining women with high breast tissue density.

This detector technology was first developed for exploring high energy X-ray and energy in the form of photons from space with very high precision. When using this technology for breast cancer detection, it is likewise about registering photons with high accuracy and using this information to create images. In this case of potential tumours.

Other uses in the future and a return to space

The main medical use for this new CZT imaging solution will be in the diagnosis of breast cancers, but the new technology also has the promise to be used in a variety of solutions making radiation detectors smaller, more portable and lighter.

The new technology could also be used in equipment for a future high-energy mission in space.


"We are happy to contribute to something as important as diagnosing and fighting cancer. This cooperation shows the importance of constantly trying to develop new research-based technologies and to be open to its potential applications in areas other than space science.”

Irfan Kuvvetli, Senior Scientist at DTU Space

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