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Imaging Breast Cancer With Light

Researchers unveil ‘photoacoustic mammoscope’ (October 23)

Researchers at the University of Twente in the Netherlands have developed a new imaging tool that may one day help detect breast cancer early, when it is most treatable.

If effective, the new device, called a photoacoustic mammoscope, would represent a new way of imaging the breast and detecting cancer. Instead of X-rays, which are used in traditional mammography, the mammoscope uses a combination of infrared light and ultrasound to create a 3-D map of the breast. The device is described in Biomedical Optics Express, a journal of The Optical Society.

In the new technique, infrared light is delivered in billionth-of-a-second pulses to breast tissue, where it is scattered and absorbed. The high absorption of blood increases the temperature of blood vessels slightly, and this causes them to undergo rapid expansion. While imperceptible to the patient, this expansion generates detectable ultrasound waves, which are used to create a 3-D map of the breast vasculature. Since cancer tumors have more blood vessels than the surrounding tissue, they are distinguishable in this 3-D image.

The researchers say that a prototype of the new device will be ready for clinical testing next year.

Source: The Optical Society; October 23, 2013.

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