Better tech for detecting breast cancer

As most women know, all the current methods for detecting breast cancer have drawbacks. Mammography can be painful, and may not detect cancers in dense breast tissue.* Ultrasound and MRI may be more accurate, but they are also far more expensive. Detecting lumps by hand can work, but often they are already larger than one would wish. Now, a team at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln have created a prototype for more sensitive and accurate early detection.

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“Schematic of touch experiment. A touch pressure applied on the top through a glass slide compressed the palpable structure on the tactile device.”

As described by an American Chemical Society (ACS) press release, the scientists made “a kind of electronic skin out of nanoparticles and polymers that can detect, ‘feel’ and image small objects. To test how it might work on a human patient, they embedded lump-like objects in a piece of silicone mimicking a breast and pressed the device against this model with the same pressure a clinician would use in a manual exam. They were able to image the lump stand-ins, which were as little as 5 mm and as deep as 20 mm…the device could also be used to screen patients for early signs of melanoma and other cancers.” The full article, published in Applied Materials and Interfaces, can be found here.

We admit this is a long way off from clinical use, since it will have to go through the FDA approval process, not to mention the challenges of mass production. Nevertheless, it’s a device worth rooting for because, as the ACS reminds us, “Clinical breast exams performed by medical professionals as an initial screening step are inexpensive, but typically don’t find lumps until they’re 21 millimeters in length, which is about four-fifths of an inch. Detecting lumps and determining their shape when they’re less than half that size improves a patient’s survival rate by more than 94 percent.”

*Digital mammography should be better at this because the images can be enhance for better detail, according to the Mayo Clinic.