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Unique Technique May Eliminate X-Rays For Breast Cancer Detection

Researchers from Netherlands’ University of Twente and Medisch Spectrum Twente Hospital in Oldenzaal have created an imaging device that teams photoacoustics with ultrasound to detect breast tumors. Dubbed the Twente Photoacoustic Mammoscope (PAM), this unique technique could replace conventional and controversial X-ray mammography if deemed both accurate and safe.

Conventional imaging has been under fire in the media lately, accused of delivering false positives and leading to unnecessary treatments and surgery. Also, there’s the ever looming question as to whether regular doses of radiation are actually safe no matter what the intensity or what the powers-that-be say.

Employing no ionizing radiation whatsoever, PAM relies on photoacoustics. It uses ultrasound technology in conjunction with red and infrared light to image tissue and detect tumors.

With a nod to patients’ comfort and peace of mind, PAM is integrated into a regular hospital bed. Laser light at 1,064 nanometers scans the patient’s chest area. If present, malignant tissue absorbs more light and the local temperature rises, creating a wave of pressure wave that gets picked up by an ultrasound detector. Once processed, these photoacoustic signals are reconstructed into images showing areas of high intensity, which is indicative of tumor tissue. Researcher's preliminary testing, conducted on 12 patients with diagnosed malignancies, indicates that PAM can pinpoint malignant tissue via high-contrast images of tumors.

Installed in a common hospital bed, the Twente Photoacoustic Mammoscope (PAM) uses a combination of photoacoustics and ultrasound technology to detect breast cancer without any radiation or X-Rays.

Referred to as optical mammographyphotoacoustics is viewed as sort of hybrid optical and acoustical imaging technique, that uses red and infrared light for imaging tasks. It’s pretty good at detecting malignancies because blood hemoglobin easily absorbs the long, wavelengths of light that are a deeper red than the blood itself. To improve detection, the researchers combined the light-based system's ability to distinguish between benign and malignant tissue with ultrasound.

Comparing the photoacoustic data with conventional diagnostic X-rays, ultrasound imaging, MRI, and tissue exams, malignancies produced a distinct photoacoustic signal that is potentially useful for making a diagnosis. Also, the photoacoustic contrast of malignant tissue appeared to be higher than contrast provided by conventional X-ray mammography.

"While we're very early in the development of this new technology, it is promising. Our hope is that these early results will one day lead to the development of a safe, comfortable, and accurate alternative or adjunct to conventional techniques for detecting breast tumors," states researcher Michelle Heijblom, a Ph.D. student at the University of Twente. Sounds like a plan……a good one.





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