Researchers Aim to Create Painless Way to Screen Breast Cancer


Breast cancer screenings are a necessity for any woman, but that does not prevent it from being a stressful and uncomfortable experience.

Despite advances in technology, there is still much to be desired when it comes to these medical screenings and diagnoses, so a group of European researchers have developed a new method for breast cancer testing that provides painless, accurate and, most of all, quick results.

Credit: University of Twente

Traditional breast cancer tests have been done using X-ray imaging, ultrasound imaging, and MRI. This new treatment adds lasers to the mix, using a combination of laser and ultrasound technology to determine the presence or absence of cancer cells in the breast tissue. The device is called the PAMMOTH, which is short for photoacoustic ultrasound mammoscopy for evaluating screening-detected abnormalities. The lasers and sound sensors provide a three dimensional image, allowing a full view of the tumor without a biopsy or other invasive procedure.

“In general … discrimination between malignancy and healthy tissue or a benign abnormality is challenging,” said Srirang Manohar, project coordinator and professor at the University of Twente.  “This results in use of multiple and/or repeat imaging, and often unnecessary biopsy.”

While current breast cancer testing can require multiple visits and the patient can often be left in the dark about her results for weeks, the goal of the PAMMOTH is to provide answers immediately after the fact. For this type of testing, all that is required of the patient is for them to rest their breasts in a hemisphere-shaped object that has been outfitted with the appropriate technology. Photoacoustics are then used to create a rendering of the tissue.

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“Light scatters within the breast and is selectively absorbed by blood in the strongly vascularized tumor site,” said Manohar. “From the detected signals the locations where the initial acoustic pressure was created can be reconstructed.”

Manohar also insists that the patient will feel no pain during the testing, as it is non-invasive. No ionizing agents are used in the process, so there should be no discomfort whatsoever.

There are over three million women in the United States alone with a history of breast cancer, although death rates have decreased. The PAMMOTH is still years away from use, with at least two years of development required to bring it to further testing. However, with over 250,000 estimated breast cancer diagnoses this year, there is more need for breast cancer testing methods that allow quick, painless and accurate results.

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