LONDON: Breast cancer screening could be made faster, cheaper and more effective using a new scanner that works like a mobile phone, it has been claimed.
The device is so easy and safe to operate it could be installed in GP surgeries or even used at home.
Instead of producing X-rays, the new scanner emits radio waves similar to those generated by a mobile phone handset.
A tumour can be detected within a second from differences in the way diseased and healthy tissue react to the signals.
The device, consisting of a cup that fits over the breast, is as small and portable as a lunchbox. It produces clear images that can be displayed on a laptop screen. Tumours or other abnormalities show up in red.
Experts believe it will be far better than a conventional mammogram at finding breast cancer in younger women. Because tumours are harder to spot in dense young breasts, the detection rate for women under the age of 50 can be as low as 60%.
Professor Zhipeng Wu, from the University of Manchester, who invented the scanner, 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 minimises the chance of missing a breast tumour during scanning.
"Other systems also need to use a liquid or gel as a matching substance, such as in an ultrasound, to work but with our system you don't need that - it can be done simply in oil, milk, water or even with a bra on. 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."
Malignant breast tissue is more sensitive to electric fields generated by radio waves than healthy tissue. The scanner uses this property to generate images at the rate of 30 a second.
The invention has been shortlisted for the IET (Institution of Engineering and Technology) Innovation Awards, to be announced next month.
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