Near infrared (NIR) optical tomography is an imaging technique in which internal images of optical properties are reconstructed with the boundary measurements of light propagation through the medium. Recent advances in instrumentation and theory have led to the use of this method for the detection and characterization of tumors within the female breast tissue. Most image reconstruction approaches have used the diffusion approximation and have assumed that the refractive index of the breast is constant, with a bulk value of approximately 1.4. We have applied a previously reported modified diffusion approximation, in which the refractive index for different tissues can be modeled. The model was used to generate NIR data from a realistic breast geometry containing a localized anomaly. Using this simulated data, we have reconstructed optical images, both with and without correct knowledge of the refractive-index distribution to show that the modified diffusion approximation can accurately recover the anomaly given a priori knowledge of refractive index. But using a reconstruction algorithm without the use of correct a priori information regarding the refractive-index distribution is shown as recovering the anomaly but with a degraded quality, depending on the degree of refractive index mismatch. The results suggest that provided the refractive index of breast tissue is approximately 1.3–1.4, their exclusion will have minimal effect on the reconstructed images.
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