Breast Imaging Research

Research performed at UCSF allows patients and physicians access to more accurate and precise diagnostic information. UCSF researchers are actively engaged in a robust program to develop and further new breakthroughs at the forefront of breast imaging.

Breast Imaging Research Group

Hylton - UCSF MedicalNola Hylton, PhD, Professor in Residence in the Department of Radiology & Biomedical Imaging at UCSF and Director of the Magnetic Resonance Science Center, directs the Breast Imaging Research Group, which is dedicated to advancing breast cancer testing imaging technologies. Dr. Hylton, an internationally-known leader in the field of breast MRI for more than 20 years, designs the UCSF protocols for MRI in breast cancer detection, diagnosis and staging.



Breat Imaging Research Group Focuses On

Detection, Accurate Diagnosis, Treatment Planning

  • Early breast cancer detection
  • Improved diagnostic specificity
  • Greater precision of image-guided biopsy
  • Pre-surgical staging prior to breast conservation
  • Response assessment for preoperative chemotherapy and hormone treatment

MRI Expertise for Breast Cancer Treatment

  • Non-invasive prognostic and predictive markers
  • Functional MRI for assessing tumor response to neoadjuvant (pre-surgical) chemotherapy for patients with locally-advanced breast cancer
  • Reducing false positive MRI examinations due to background enhancement
  • MR imaging of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) for staging and assessment of response to hormonal treatment
  • Breast cancer diagnosis and treatment monitoring using combined MRI and optical spectroscopy
  • MR breast tissue composition and cancer risk

MRI During Treatment - UCSF MedicalOne example where research directly benefited UCSF patients was the implementation of the Vanguard MRI breast coil, which improved breast magnetic resonance (MR) and MR breast biopsy techniques and reduced the time required to have a breast MRI biopsy from two to three hours to a minimum of 35 minutes in the scanner.  The MRI breast coil equipment was made available to UCSF physicians through research funds granted to Dr. Hylton, who was installing at UCSF the first breast coil of its kind in the United States.

Bonnie Joe, MD, PhD, Chief of the Women’s Imaging Section at UCSF Medical Center, also leads the Breast Imaging Research Group along with Dr. Hylton.  A mentee of Dr. Bonnie Joe and Dr. Nola Hylton and current UCSF resident, Vignesh Arasu, MD, was featured in the Fall 2012 Newsletter of RSNA’s Research and Education Foundation for his research on improving the specificity of breast MRI to reduce false positives in breast cancer detection. Dr Arasu investigated the use of a UCSF-developed software tool for MRI called Signal Enhancement Ratio (SER), a high-resolution method that more precisely measures how blood flows through breast lesions.

Research Trials

Participate in ATHENA Program

UCSF Medical Center hosts the Athena Program, which unites physicians, researchers, and patients at the five University of California Medical Centers, the UCSF Institute for Health Policy Studies, and the School of Public Health at UC Berkeley. The Athena Program will involve 150,000 women throughout California who will be screened for breast cancer and followed for several decades through the five UC medical centers.  Through collaborative multi-institutional innovation, the program aims to reduce the number of women who develop breast cancer as well as to improve treatments for, and survival of, those women with the disease. For example, there may be opportunities to study DCIS, Ductal Carcinoma In Situ, which is the most common type of non-invasive cancer and to study IDC, invasive ductal carcinoma, which is the most common invasive breast cancer. The Athena Program builds on the University of California's depth and breadth of cancer research: All five UC Medical Centers are designated by the National Cancer Institute as Comprehensive Cancer Centers. UC medical centers annually screen as many as 80,000 women and diagnose 2,500 patients with breast cancer.

Participate in Breast Cancer Trials

For information on how to participate in breast imaging research trials at UCSF, please contact Krysta Banfield., developed at the UCSF Center of Excellence for Breast Cancer in collaboration with the National Cancer Institute and patient advocates, is an online clinical trial matching service and enables users to learn about breast cancer research studies across the United States and to easily identify trials that might be right for them.  Studies investigating breast cancer prevention, detection, treatment and quality of life are presented. is an extension of a successful regional pilot program co-developed by UCSF and the National Cancer Institute.