Handheld NIR scanner could allow real-time 3D breast cancer screening

Scientists at Florida International University (Miami, FL) have developed a handheld near-infrared (NIR) scanner with the potential to offer breast cancer imaging in real time. The device uses a NIR laser diode source to produce an image of the breast tissues.

Related: Handheld optical devices for the physician's toolbox

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. What's more, women who have been scanned by the device did not feel anything during examination, according to Sarah Erickson-Bhatt, an author on the paper describing the work.

The device builds an image of the tissue by mapping the optical absorption, which is altered by the concentration of hemoglobin—the protein in red blood cells. Regions with higher concentrations of hemoglobin may indicate higher blood flow due to an abnormality such as a tumor.

The optical analysis developed offers several benefits over mammography, with no ionizing radiation dose and fewer issues with imaging dense tissues.

Anu Godavarty, another author of the paper, says that the research team hopes that physicians will be able to use this for real-time imaging of breast tissues as part of regular visits by patients. They are working on the mathematical tools required to process the images and produce 3D tomographic images to determine tumor size and depth, she adds.

The researchers’ ongoing 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.

Full details of the work appear in the journal Biomedical Physics & Engineering Express; for more information, please visit http://dx.doi.org/10.1088/2057-1976/1/4/045001.

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