Microwave Journal

University of Manchester Develops Portable Breast Scanner

November 3, 2010

Professor Zhipeng Wu of the University of Manchester’s School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering has invented a portable scanner based on radio frequency technology, which is able to show in a second the presence of tumors – malignant and benign – in the breast on a computer. This ground-breaking research means that women could have a fast test for breast cancer and instantly identify the presence of a tumor in the comfort of their own home.

Using radio frequency or microwave technology for breast cancer detection has been proven by researchers in the US, Canada and UK. However, up to now, it can take a few minutes for an image to be produced, and this had to be done in a hospital or specialist care centre. Now, however, not only is the new scanner a quicker and less-intrusive means of testing, it also means women can be tested at GP surgeries, which could help dramatically reduce waiting times and in some cases avoid unnecessary X-ray mammography. The scanner could also be used at home for continuous monitoring of breast health.

The patented real-time radio frequency scanner uses computer tomography and works by using the same technology as a mobile phone, but with only a tiny fraction of its power. This makes it both safe and low-cost and the electronics can be housed in a case the size of a lunch box for compactness and portability.

The usual way of detecting breast cancer up to now is mammography, which works well for women over the age of 50 and can give results of up to 95 percent accuracy. But it is far less effective for younger women. The detection rate could be as low as 60 percent for women under the age of 50, which accounts for 20 percent of all breast cancer cases. At that stage it is even more important to get accurate diagnosis.

The main difference between the two methods is that mammography works on density, while the radio frequency technique works on dielectric contrasts between normal and diseased breast tissues. In Professor Wu’s design, as soon as the breast enters the cup an image appears on screen. The presence of a tumor or other abnormality will show up in red as the sensor detects the difference in tissue contrasts at radio frequencies. Malignant tissues have higher permittivity and conductivity and therefore appear differently than normal ones to a screen. Up to 30 images are generated every second, meaning a breast scan could be over in a far shorter time than they are currently.

Professor Wu said, “The system we have is portable and as soon as you lie down you can get a scan – it’s real-time. The real-time imaging minimizes the chance of missing a breast tumor during scanning.”

He added, “Although there is still research to be done, the system has great potential to bring a new way for breast cancer diagnosis. This will benefit millions of women in both developed and developing countries bearing in mind that one in nine women may develop breast cancer in their lifetime.”

To see the breast cancer scanner in action click: www.dailymotion.com/video/xfezxh_new-scanner-allows-cancer-detection-at-home_news