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Portable breast scanner allows instant cancer detection

LOS BANOS, LAGUNA, Oct. 28 -– The use of radio frequency or microwave technology for breast cancer detection has been proven by researchers in the US, Canada and UK. However, up to now, it can take a few minutes for an image to be produced, and this had to be done in a hospital or specialist care center.

Prof. Zhipeng Wu, from the University's School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, said concerned patients can receive real-time video images in using the radio frequency scanner which would clearly and simply show the presence of a tumor.

Prof. Wu has invented a portable scanner based on radio frequency technology, which is able to show in a second the presence of tumors – malignant and benign – in the breast on a computer.

He said, not only is this a quicker and less-intrusive means of testing. It also means women can be tested at GP surgeries, which could help dramatically reduce waiting time and in some cases, avoid unnecessary X-ray mammography. The scanner could also be used at home for continuous monitoring of breast health, Prof. Wu said.

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, he said.

This makes it both 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, Prof. Wu said.

Breast cancer is the second biggest killer in women, accounting for 8.2 percent of all cancer deaths. October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month, he said.

The usual way of detecting breast cancer up to now is mammography, which works well for women over the age of 50 and can give results of up to 95 percent accuracy, he said.

But it is far less effective for younger women. The detection rate could be as low as 60 percent for women under the age of 50, which accounts for 20 percent of all breast cancer cases.

At that stage, it is even more important to get accurate diagnosis. Early diagnosis and treatment could save thousands of lives, Prof. Wu said.

He said 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 tissues.

In Professor Wu's design, as soon as the breast enters the cup an image appears on screen. The presence of a tumor or other abnormality will show up in red as the sensor detects the difference in tissue contrasts at radio frequencies. Malignant tissues have higher permitivity and conductivity and therefore appear differently than normal ones to a screen.

Up to 30 images are generated every second, meaning a breast scan could be over in a far shorter time than they are currently with mammography, he said. (PNA) V3/FMB

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