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Women can test for breast cancer at home [Print to PDF] [Print to RTF]

Women will in the future be able to test quickly and efficiently for breast cancer in the comfort of their own home thanks to a groundbreaking invention by a professor at the University of Manchester's School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering in the UK. Professor Zhipen...
Women can test for breast cancer at home
Women will in the future be able to test quickly and efficiently for breast cancer in the comfort of their own home thanks to a groundbreaking invention by a professor at the University of Manchester's School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering in the UK. Professor Zhipeng Wu has invented a portable scanner based on radio frequency technology, which is able to show in a second the presence of tumours - malignant and benign - in the breast on a computer.

Researchers in Canada, the UK and the US have already proved that radio frequency or microwave technology can be used to detect breast cancer. However, until now, it took several minutes for an image to be produced and the test had to be carried out in a hospital or specialist care centre. Professor Wu has solved these problems, offering concerned patients the chance to receive real-time video images of a tumour.

He said that his was not only a quicker and less-intrusive means of testing, but that it also meant women can be tested for breast cancer at GP surgeries. This could help dramatically reduce waiting times for an appointment with a specialist and in some cases avoid unnecessary X-ray mammography. The scanner could also be used at home for continuous monitoring of breast health.

'The system we have is portable and as soon as you lie down you can get a scan - it's real-time,' Professor Wu said, noting that this 'minimises the chance of missing a breast tumour during scanning.' He insisted that his invention offered other advantages over existing technologies. 'Other systems also need to use a liquid or gel as a matching substance, such as in an ultrasound, but our system can be done simply in oil, milk, water or even with a bra on,' he explained.

The patented real-time radio frequency scanner uses computer tomography and works by using the same technology as a mobile phone, but with only a tiny fraction of its power. This makes it safe and low-cost and the electronics can be housed in a case the size of a lunch box for compactness and portability. Other existing systems are much larger.

In 2008 around 1.38 million women were diagnosed with breast cancer worldwide, accounting for around a tenth of all new cancers and nearly a quarter of all female cancer cases. The highest rates of female breast cancer rates are in Europe with an estimated 332,000 new cases of breast cancer occurring in the EU-27 in 2008.

The usual way of detecting breast cancer is by mammography, which according to the research team works well for women over the age of 50 and can give results of up to 95% accuracy. But they highlighted that it is far less effective for younger women with the detection rate as low as 60% for women under the age of 50, who account for 20 per cent of all breast cancer cases. The team pointed out that early diagnosis and treatment could save thousands of lives, hence the importance of Professor Wu's invention.

The main difference between the two methods is that mammography works on density, while radio frequency technique works on dielectric contrasts between normal and diseased breast tissue. In Professor Wu's design, as soon as the breast enters the cup an image appears on screen and the presence of a tumour or other abnormality shows up in red as the sensor detects the difference in tissue contrasts at radio frequencies.

The technology has been shortlisted in the UK-based Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) Innovation Awards - the results will be announced in November.
Source: University of Manchester

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Record Number: 32716 / Last updated on: 2010-10-29
Category: Miscellaneous
Provider: EC