Photoacoustic imaging shows that breast cancer tumors have different manifestations and forms

A team of scientists at the Biomedical Technology and Technical Medicine (MIRA) research institute at the University of Twente (Enschede, the Netherlands), using a photoacoustic imaging method for breast cancer detection that has been in development for the past 15 years, has shown that breast tumors have specific manifestations and forms.

Related: Photoacoustic mammoscopy aims for safer, earlier breast cancer screening

The method, which led to a clinical prototype called the photoacoustic mammoscope (PAM), uses short bursts of light to cause ultrasonic waves in places where a high density of blood vessels is present, such as in the vicinity of malignant tumors. These ultrasonic signals then travel to the surface of the skin, where they can be measured.

With their latest research, the scientists demonstrated that their method has the potential to reveal the presence of breast tumors in practice. They investigated how various breast tumors appeared among a population of 32 patients using their method. They compared the PAMmography images with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) images and with microscope images after the tumor had been removed and then stained with dyes. Doing so enabled them to distinguish among three different manifestations of the tumors. According to associate professor Srirang Manohar, who led the research, this is an important step in establishing diagnostic indicators.

Manohar says that PAMmography scored well in the research compared to MRI. The study shows that PAMmography has the potential to be used in practice in the future, as it is relatively cheap, painless, does not require contrasting dye, and—in principle—enable the detection of breast tumors in young breast tissue. At a certain point, PAMmography can play an important role in the area of detection (screening), diagnosis, monitoring tumors during chemotherapy, and in the detection of breast cancer in young women, according to Manohar.

Manohar foresees that the method could be used in approximately 5 to 10 years, but could take longer before it can be used regularly for screening and diagnosis.

Full details of the work appear in the journal Scientific Reports; for more information, please visit http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/srep11778.

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