NIR scanner shows potential for real-time 3D breast cancer screening

A hand-held optical scanner using near infrared light has the potential to offer breast cancer imaging in real time. The work has been reported in Biomedical Physics & Engineering Express.

The device, developed primarily at Florida International University, uses a NIR laser diode source to produce an image of the breast tissues. One advantage presented by the device is that it is more adaptable to breast shape and density, and that it allows imaging of the chest wall regions, which are harder to image with conventional techniques.

“The women scanned always commented on how comfortable it was to be scanned by our device—many of them said that they didn’t feel anything”, said Sarah Erickson-Bhatt, an author on the paper.

The device builds an image of the tissue by mapping the optical absorption, which is altered by the concentration of haemoglobin. Regions with higher concentrations of haemoglobin may indicate higher blood floor due to an abnormality such as a tumour. The optical analysis developed offers several benefits over mammography, with no ionising radiation dose and fewer issues imaging dense tissues.

“Eventually, we hope that physicians will be able to use this for real-time imaging of breast tissues as part of regular visits by the patients”, adds Anu Godavarty, another author. “We’re current working on the mathematical tools required to process the images and produce 3D tomographic images, in order to determine tumour size and depth.”

The researchers’ on-going efforts involve extensive clinical work to demonstrate the capability of the device to pre-screen for any breast abnormality, followed by seeking FDA approvals prior to clinical use.

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