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Near-Infrared–Light Breast Scanner Gets Tested

September 27, 2012
Written by: , Filed in: Breast Imaging
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A new breast-imaging system uses near-infrared light. Its developers say it can not only detect breast cancer but also monitor, in real time, a patient’s response to therapy.

Tufts University School of Engineering in Medford, Massachusetts, developed the technique. Tufts Medical Center in Boston is putting it through a five-year clinical study.

Researchers envision the system for use in secondary breast-cancer screening, complementing traditional mammography, particularly for women with dense breasts. The researchers seem confident that it will not carry the high false-positive rate of current secondary screening methods, such as MRI and ultrasound. Sergio Fantini, PhD, who is leading the research effort, said:

The consensus is that X-ray mammography is very good at detecting lesions, but it’s not as good at determining which suspiciouis lesions are really cancer.

Presumably the new technique would be better. Dr. Fantini is a professor of biomedical engineering. He was quoted in a Tufts news release via EurekAlert!

The system involves compressing the breasts between two horizontal glass panels, but only slightly, making it more comfortable than X-ray mammography, according to the researchers. It’s noninvasive and involves no ionizing radiation.

Differences in the absorption of near-infrared light as it passes through the breast allow identification of water, fats, oxygen-rich tissue, and oxygen-poor tissue. A monitor displays functional real-time images. So the system can show metabolic changes—such as those caused by chemotherapy.

“It’s been reported that patients who respond to breast cancer chemotherapy show a decrease in hemoglobin and water concentration and an increase in lipid concentration at the cancer site,” said Dr. Fantini.

“This suggests that NIR imaging can be valuable not only in diagnosing breast cancer but in monitoring individual response to therapies without requiring repeated X-rays. For example, it could help determine if a patient is responding to neoadjuvant chemotherapy administered to shrink a tumor before surgery.”

The clinical study is apparently just moving out of the proof-of-concept stage, so don’t expect this system to come into clinical use anytime soon. But it sounds promising.

Related seminar: Breast & Women’s Imaging Seminar

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