Portable scanner lets women monitor breast health at home

A portable breast scanner that can identify tumours within a patient’s own home has been developed by researchers at Manchester University.

The scanner, invented by Prof Zhipeng Wu, uses radio frequency signals that work in the same way as computer tomography to identify benign and malignant tumours.

Unlike conventional mammography, which distinguishes tissue based on density, the radio frequency scanner establishes dielectric contrasts between normal and diseased breast tissues.

A cup-shaped device is fitted over the breast to take around 30 images every second and provide real-time images of the tissue on a computer screen.

The presence of a tumour or other abnormality will show up in red. According to Wu, malignant tissues have higher permittivity and conductivity and therefore appear differently to normal ones.

‘The system could allow women to continuously monitor their breast health at home,’ he said. ‘It could also prove beneficial to women in developing countries with limited access to healthcare.’

Wu claims that the device has a high level of accuracy for women under the age of 50. Currently, mammography provides 95 per cent accuracy for women over 50, falling to as low as 60 per cent for women below the age bracket.

However, he added that the device is currently not as accurate as X-ray mammography for smaller tumours, and that any screening must be done alongside traditional screening methods.

‘The development of this device has been taking place over a decade,’ he said. ‘But it is only recently that we have had a breakthrough in being able to produce images in real time. Our next step is to take it to clinical trials.’

Breast cancer is the second biggest killer in women, accounting for 8.2 per cent of all cancer deaths.