Early detection of breast cancer is critical, but 40%-50% of women have dense breast tissue which makes it difficult for tumors to be identified. Dense breast tissue is also where tumors are commonly located. A delayed diagnosis means standard early interventions may not be possible and major surgery will necessary.
Researchers at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) have been developing advanced thermal imaging technology that is non-invasive, cost-effective, and allows physicians to see deeper into dense breast tissues to locate tumors.
“Mammography, although it is good, may not be a complete solution,” said Satish Kandlikar, professor of mechanical engineering at RIT Kate Gleason College of Engineering, Gleason has spent almost two decades advancing thermal imaging technology, which has several advantages over mammography. It is not necessary to expose patients to harmful radiation, no contrast material is required, it’s cheaper and it is much more comfortable for patients.
An infrared camera is mounted on a track underneath a cushioned table on which the patient lies on. There is a hole in the table and the camera can be moved and angled to take images.
The technology used to create the images has been around for a long time and infrared tests have been conducted in the past, but the enhancements made by the MIT team have allowed images to be taken in far greater detail. The test is also much faster that an MRI. The infrared test takes around 20 minutes whereas an MRI scan takes around 45 minutes to complete.
Once the images are taken they are subjected to machine analysis using MIT’s machine learning technology. The system conducts a predictive analysis on tumor locations and growth, which can help to speed up diagnosis by a physician.
Screening for breast cancer is heavily reliant on digital mammography, which is not as effective a tool for women with dense breast tissue. An additional fast, easy-to-use, accurate, patient-friendly imaging technique could help physicians detect cancer faster and at a stage when treatments will be most effective.
“Our preliminary data suggest that it may be a very sensitive adjunct to routine screening mammography. Further studies are needed to decide the best way to utilize this technology in practice,” said Pradyumna Phatak, medical director of the Lipson Cancer Institute and chief of medicine.
The new imaging method is being trialed at Rochester Regional Health Breast Center. When patients are referred for an MRI scan to investigate suspicious X-ray findings, patients can also volunteer to be screened using the new imaging system.