New breast imaging tech can tell malignant from benign 

European scientists have developed a new breast imaging technique that can distinguish malignant from benign tumours, potentially ending unnecessary biopsies. 

breast imaging

The Horizon2020 project SOLUS combines imaging and ultrasound techniques, with patients examined using a non-invasive pen probe, similar to that used for pregnancy scans. Using a technique called ‘diffuse optical imaging’, the probe can monitor changes in concentrations of oxygenated and deoxygenated haemoglobin, collagen, lipids and water present in a suspected tumour against a pre-programmed set of results. It’s these parameters that indicate whether a tumour is cancerous or not. 

“We have been applying diffuse optics to different aspects of breast cancer (lesion discrimination and an estimate of cancer risk) for 20 years now,” said Professor Paola Taroni from Politecnico di Milano, Italy. 

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“Our team developed a multi-wavelength time-domain optical mammography which was used in clinical studies on more than 400 patients. Now an upgraded version has just entered clinics for the monitoring of neoadjuvant chemotherapy of breast cancer. Furthermore, our group performed a lot of work on other diagnostic applications, such as functional brain imaging and muscle oximetry.”

breast imaging
While mammography is accurate in detecting breast lesions, it results in many false positives where lumps are present but there is no cancer. This, in turn, leads to invasive biopsies to determine the status of these lumps. According to one recent study, false-positive breast biopsies cost more than $2bn per year in the United States alone.

“Women may have to wait days or weeks for a malignant or benign result to come back, which causes distress, as well as great discomfort from an invasive biopsy,” Professor Taroni continued. “Astonishingly, millions of unnecessary biopsies are currently carried out across the world at a cost of millions of euros in Europe, and potentially billions worldwide.” 

The SOLUS team is aiming for 95 per cent sensitivity and 90 per cent specificity and is hoping to deploy the new breast imaging technique clinically within the next couple of years. 

“Having undergone extensive laboratory trials, the SOLUS team plan to validate the system in real clinical settings at the end of this year and through into 2021,” Professor Taroni said.