Breast Screening Technique Using Radio Waves Goes on Trial in UK

by Gopalan on  April 26, 2008 at 12:42 PM Cancer News
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Breast Screening Technique Using Radio Waves Goes on Trial in UK
A new technique for breast screening using radio waves goes on trial in the UK.

The new technology costs a fraction of existing X-ray mammogram machines, takes just two minutes and totally removes the risk from exposure to radiation.

It could be used to routinely screen women at a much earlier age because there is no radiation risk.

The breakthrough raises the possibility that mass cancer screening could be extended to women in their 40s or even 30s and drastically improve survival rates.

Dr Ian Craddock, who developed the test at Bristol University, said the ultimate aim is to get mass breast screening into GPs' surgeries - and possibly even the High Street.

In Britain, the High Street is usually a focal point for shops and retailers in the city centre, and is most often used in reference to retailing.

Dr. Craddock said: "It could be put in a corner of a surgery or a private clinic or even on the High Street and it should transform how we screen for breast cancer.

"It's fast and relatively cheap and it makes spotting tumours much easier. We're very excited."

Breast cancer tests are only standard for women over 50 because x-rays cannot penetrate the firmer breast tissue of younger women.

But the new machine uses sound waves which can easily scan denser tissue.

The technology is called Maria, which stands for Multi-static Array processing for Radio wave Image Acquisition, reports Daily Mail.

Current mammogram machines can cost up to Ģ400,000 - but the Maria machine costs just Ģ50,000.

To have a 'Maria' scan, a woman lies face down on a specially-adapted hospital couch with her breasts resting in two cups.

Each cup is fitted with 16 antennae spaced evenly around the surface which beam sound waves through the breast in a grid formation.

The data is fed back to a computer which almost instantly translates it into a three-dimensional image which highlights any possible tumours.

X-rays only give relatively fuzzy two-dimensional images but the Maria machine produces a crisp 3-D picture which makes tumours much easier to identify and treat.

Dr Craddock's research was based on computer technology used to find land mines hidden underground in war zones.

It is a more advanced form of the radar with 'blip' screens used to detect enemy ships and aircraft during World War Two.

He said: "A tumour has a different density and water content to surrounding healthy tissue, so it generates a reflection when you transmit sound waves at it.

"When you use X-rays or mammograms to screen for cancer, the difference in the properties between healthy tissue and a tumour is quite small, perhaps just a few per cent, but with radar the difference is much greater - up to about 400 per cent.

"There are no known side-effects. This technology uses less power than a mobile phone, and women would be exposed to it only once a year."

A prototype machine was tested on 20 women in Bristol last year and the results were good but revealed areas for improvement.

A redesigned, more advanced Maria will now go to its first hospital trials in July at Bristol's Frenchay Hospital's breast care centre after the Ģ2million cash injection from private backers.

Around 100 women are expected to be tested before the scheme is extended to another major hospital elsewhere in the country in mid-2009.

If that large-scale trial is successful, the device will be put forward for nationwide adoption in the NHS.

According to the latest figures from charity Breast Cancer Care, over 44,000 women a year are diagnosed with breast cancer - more than 100 a day.

A woman has a one in nine chance of developing the disease at some point in her life.

Breast cancer is the second biggest cause of death from cancer for women in the UK - only lung cancer is deadlier.

Cancer campaigners welcomed the breakthrough but warned of the need for further detailed study to properly assess the benefits.

Stephen Duffy, professor of cancer screening at Cancer Research UK, said: "This is a potentially exciting development.

"There is a need for breast screening techniques which can cope with dense breast tissue."

But Antonia Dean, clinical nurse specialist at Breast Cancer Care, stressed women should continue checking their breasts for abnormalities, though Dr Craddock's new method of screening was an interesting development.

Source: Medindia

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