Alternative mammography

Researchers at Dartmouth Medical School, New Hampshire are testing three new electromagnetic imaging techniques to help detect breast abnormalities, including cancer.

Researchers are testing three promising new electromagnetic imaging techniques to help detect breast abnormalities, including cancer.

For the study, which is part of the five-year Alternative Breast Imaging Project funded by a grant from the US National Cancer Institute, researchers at Dartmouth Medical School in Lebanon, New Hampshire, imaged the breasts of 23 women using a combination of electrical impedance (EI)spectroscopy; microwave imaging (MI) spectroscopy and near-infrared (NIR) spectroscopy.

The new imaging techniques are said to use low-frequency electrical currents, microwaves and infrared light to create a computerised image of a cross-section of breast tissue.

Each technology can identify various properties, including the amount of oxygenated blood flow in the breast and how the tissue absorbs light and stores and conducts an electrical charge. These properties help researchers estimate specific breast characteristics, which differ in normal and diseased tissue.

“This study was the first stepping stone in our ongoing research to gain a better understanding of the electromagnetic properties of breast tissue,” said Steven Poplack, MD, professor of radiology at Dartmouth Medical School and co-director of breast imaging and mammography at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Centre. “Once we establish normal ranges for specific breast characteristics, we’ll begin working on recognising breast abnormalities, including cancer.”

The research team is exploring alternative breast imaging techniques to address some of the limitations of mammography, a diagnostic exam recommended for women over age 40 as a screening for breast cancer.

“If we can offer an alternative screening technique that addresses radiation concerns and is also more comfortable, the hope is that more women may elect to be screened for breast cancer,” Dr Poplack said.

Electromagnetic imaging does not expose women to potentially harmful radiation. To obtain an electromagnetic image, the patient lies facedown on the exam table, which eliminates the need to rigorously compress the breast, as is necessary with mammography.

Young women who are at genetically high risk for breast cancer may also be good candidates for the new breast imaging techniques, according to Dr Poplack.

“Teenagers and young women are not typically candidates for mammography, but electromagnetic imaging could be used to screen high-risk women in their 20s and 30s to help detect breast cancer early,” Dr Poplack said.