Optical imaging involves the propagation of light through tissue. Current optical breast imaging technologies, including diffuse optical spectroscopy, diffuse optical tomography, and photoacoustic imaging, capitalize on the selective absorption of light in the near-infrared spectrum by deoxygenated and oxygenated hemoglobin. They provide information on the morphological and functional characteristics of different tissues based on their varied interactions with light, including physiologic information on lesion vascular content and anatomic information on tissue vascularity.
Fluorescent contrast agents, such as indocyanine green, are used to visualize specific tissues, molecules, or proteins depending on how and where the agent accumulates. In this review, we describe the physical principles, spectrum of technologies, and clinical applications of the most common optical systems currently being used or developed for breast imaging. Most notably, US co-registered photoacoustic imaging and US-guided diffuse optical tomography have demonstrated efficacy in differentiating benign from malignant breast masses, thereby improving the specificity of diagnostic imaging. Diffuse optical tomography and diffuse optical spectroscopy have shown promise in assessing treatment response to preoperative systemic therapy, and photoacoustic imaging and diffuse optical tomography may help predict tumor phenotype.
Lastly, fluorescent imaging using indocyanine green dye performs comparably to radioisotope mapping of sentinel lymph nodes and appears to improve the outcomes of autologous tissue flap breast reconstruction.