New Technology Could Change Breast Cancer Screening

Scientists at Bristol University have developed the world’s first breast imaging system that could change the way women are scanned for breast cancer.

Demonstration of the radar breast imaging systemDemonstration of the radar breast imaging system

Researchers have been working for years to develop a breast-imaging device using radiowaves, which has no radiation risk, unlike mammograms. This new system is currently being trialled at North Bristol NHS Trust (NBT).

“This new imaging technique works by transmitting radio waves of a very low energy and detecting reflected signals, it then uses these signals to make a 3D image of the breast. This is basically the same as any radar system, such as the radars used for air traffic control at our airports,” said Dr. Ian Craddock from the University’s Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering.

So far around sixty women have been examined using the imaging system. The benefits are that it takes less time than a mammogram – approximately six minutes for each breast – compared to an MRI’s painfully uncomfortable 30-45 minutes. It also produces a very detailed 3D digital image.

How it works is that the new radar breast imaging system is built using transmitters and receivers arranged around a ceramic cup, which the breast sits in. These transmitters view the breast from several different angles.

Normal (left) versus cancerous (right) mammography imageNormal (left) versus cancerous (right) mammography image

“Using this engineering knowledge we built the machine using ground penetrating radar, a similar technique to land mine detection to take four hundred quarter of a second pictures of the breast to form a 3D image. Women do not feel any sensation and it equates to the same type of radiation exposure as speaking into a mobile phone at arms length which makes it much safer,” said Professor Alan Preece from the University's Medical Physics.

In the future the team plans to compare the two machines by closely examining the images and determine whether the radar breast machine’s 3D digital image picks up the same abnormalities as a mammogram would and also if anything else is identified in the image. If all goes well, they will continue further trials specifically focused on young women because that can prove more challenging.

"This technology will ultimately only benefit the patient if it can be successfully commercialised", said Roy Johnson, CEO of Micrima Ltd, "this new invention could provide a safe, more comfortable experience for women as well as giving clinicians a better image of the breast allowing them to pick up abnormalities at an earlier stage. We particularly hope that it may work well in younger women who can pose a problem to conventional mammography."

Source: Bristol University Press Release