Nipple-sparing mastectomy is becoming a popular measure for breast cancer surgeries, because many patients want to reserve a natural appearance. But it is important to first make sure that the cancer has not spread into the tissues of the nipple. Recently, Naoki Sunaguchi, PhD, of Nagoya University in Japan led a team that used X-ray dark-field computed tomography (XDFI-CT) to create 3D images of the nipples.

“In this study, we examined 51 human nipples by XDFI-CT and visualized the 3D arrangements of the nipple ducts,” explains Assoc. Prof. Sunaguchi. First, XDFI-CT was used to obtain 2D sections of the nipple so as to compare them with conventional tissue sections observed through light microscopy. The results showed that the 2D CT slices were structurally compatible with the ones obtained through the conventional approach, giving a first demonstration of the capabilities of the method.

The CT-derived 2D slices were afterwards easily turned into full 3D renderings of the nipples, allowing the researchers to count the number of milk ducts and analyze the overall ductal structure, which varied from patient to patient. “Using 3D volume renderings of the 51 samples, we discovered three different types of duct arrangements,” comments Assoc. Prof. Sunaguchi. These three types of arrangements were “convergent,” in which the ducts converged in a bowl shape centered at the tip of the nipple; “straight,” where the ducts grew parallelly from the base to the tip; and “divergent,” where the ducts diverged as they came closer to the tip.

Read more from Nagoya University and find the study in Breast Cancer Research and Treatment.

Featured image: Visualization of the lactiferous ducts in the nipple. Credit: Naoki Sunaguchi, Nagoya University.