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Innovative Technology Detects Early-Stage Breast Cancer in Two Minutes

By MedImaging International staff writers
Posted on 04 Dec 2023
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Image: The innovative technology is cheaper and safer than common cancer diagnostic tools (Photo courtesy of University of Waterloo)
Image: The innovative technology is cheaper and safer than common cancer diagnostic tools (Photo courtesy of University of Waterloo)

Breast cancer is the second-most common cancer and among the second-leading causes of death from cancer for women. The sooner a malignant tumor is detected, the higher the chances of survival in breast cancer patients. Now, researchers are at the forefront of developing a groundbreaking method for early breast cancer detection, which holds the promise of being both more accurate and cost-effective than current diagnostic approaches like X-ray mammography, ultrasound, and MRI. This new technology, which has already completed test runs in just two minutes using less energy than a smartphone, offers a safer alternative to X-rays by avoiding high-level radiation exposure that can potentially damage DNA and lead to cancer.

Since 2001, researchers at University of Waterloo (Waterloo, ON, Canada) have been delving into the use of low-frequency electromagnetic waves for detecting early-stage breast cancer. Their significant discovery that these waves travel in straight lines has led to the development of a disruptive diagnostic device. This device, resembling X-ray mammography but without its limitations, employs low-frequency electromagnetic energy emitted from an antenna similar to those in smartphones. This energy, upon penetrating the breast, is captured by a metasurface or circuit board composed of interconnected pixels, with each pixel functioning as a receiver.

An AI system processes the data from the circuit board, eliminating the need for manual review by a technician. This advanced technology is capable of pinpointing a tumor's size and location, effectively detecting abnormalities even in dense breast tissue, an area where current diagnostics often fall short. The effectiveness of this system has been validated through tests on breast phantoms, artificial structures that mimic the properties of human breasts. The research team is now focused on advancing this technology for human trials and developing a prototype suitable for mass production. Their ultimate objective is to make this innovative diagnostic tool affordable and accessible globally, similar to the ease and frequency of in-pharmacy blood pressure tests.

“We are coming very close to providing a method for breast cancer detection at an early stage that is inexpensive and harmless for women,” said Dr. Omar Ramahi, lead researcher and a professor in Waterloo’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “We’re trying to make a serious contribution to women’s health and create an alternative that is clinically and commercially viable.”

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