Detection of microcalcifications using nonlinear beamforming techniques

Zhengchang Kou, Trevor H. Park, Rita J. Miller, Michael L. Oelze

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Abundant research demonstrates that early detection of cancer leads to improved patient prognoses. By detecting cancer earlier, when tumors are in their primary stages, treatment can be applied before metastases have occurred. The presence of microcalcifications (MCs) is indicative of malignancy in the breast, i.e., 30-50% of all nonpalpable breast cancers detected using mammograms are based on identifying the presence of MCs. Therefore, improving the ability to detect MCs with modern imaging technology remains an important goal. Specifically, improving the sensitivity of ultrasound imaging techniques to detect MCs in the breast will provide an important role for the early detection and diagnosis of breast cancer. Methods: In this work, a novel nonlinear beamforming technology for ultrasonic arrays is investigated for its ability to detect MCs. The beamforming technique, called null subtraction imaging (NSI), utilizes nulls in the beam pattern to create images using ultrasound. NSI provides improved lateral resolution, a reduction in side lobes, and an accentuation of bright singular targets. Therefore, it was hypothesized that the use of NSI would result in identification of more MCs in rat tumors having a speckle background. To test this hypothesis, rats with tumors were injected with Hydroxyapatite (HA) particles to mimic MCs. Ultrasound was used to scan the rat tumors and images were constructed using conventional delay and sum and using NSI beamforming. Three readers with experience in diagnostic ultrasound imaging examined the 1,344 images and scored the presence or absence of MCs. Discussion: In all, 336 different tumor image slices were recorded and each reconstructed using NSI or conventional delay and sum with Hann apodization. In every image where one or MCs were detected in the Hann reconstructions, MCs were detected in the NSI images. In nine rat tumor images, one or more MCs were detected in the NSI images but not in the Hann images. Conclusions: Statistically, the results did support the hypothesis that NSI would increase the number of MCs detected in the rat tumors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1709-1718
Number of pages10
JournalUltrasound in Medicine and Biology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2023


  • Beamforming
  • Microcalcifications
  • Null Subtraction Imaging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiological and Ultrasound Technology
  • Biophysics
  • Acoustics and Ultrasonics


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