A recent study published in Review of Scientific Instruments, shows that microwaves can be an alternative way to search for signs of breast cancer.
Currently, the methods applied to screen for breast cancer, such as X-ray computed tomography (CT) and mammography, are efficient in detecting early signs of tumors but they still present many faults, including the exposure of patients to ionizing radiation and discomfort in women who undergo screening.
This study proposes that microwaves could be an improved, cheaper and safer solution for detection of breast cancer signs.
Microwave imaging is based on the differences between dielectric properties of cancerous tissue and normal tissue, which translates into the ability of these tissues to drive electricity or tolerate an electric field. In this particular technology, the patient’s breast is enfolded in a liquid bath and surrounded by a group of 16 antennae, that illuminates each individual breast with a soft microwave signal (much lower than that of a cell phone). The antennae then receive the signals transmitted through the breast tissues and produce data that can be analyzed to construct a 3-D image of the breast that highlights the cancerous areas versus the healthy ones.
“The iterative image reconstruction algorithm computes what the dielectric property distribution must have been to generate the measured signal patterns. It is quite similar to X-ray computed tomography, where the target is radiated from all of the surrounding directions and the data is synthesized to create an image of the internal structures,” study author Dr. Neil Epstein, a NSERC CREATE I3T postdoctoral fellow at the University of Calgary in Canada said in a news release.
Even though these new screening systems are not able to deliver the spatial resolution of mammography, they do have an improved specificity, possibly allowing the identification of benign versus malignant tumors within the breast tissue in a non-invasive manner.
“Researchers are realizing that this lack of specificity is a significant limitation for conventional imaging techniques and are looking for alternative ways to enhance it. Microwave imaging could fill this niche, possibly in combination with other modalities,” Dr. Epstein added.