This is a schematic illustration of the imaging system and the ultrasound detector.
A new and potentially cheaper breast cancer screening device has been developed in the Netherlands, a study published in the journal Biomedical Optics Express announced. Instead of radiation, the technology uses a combination of infrared light and ultrasound to create a 3-D map of the breast that may be able to detect cancer earlier than other modalities can.
The new device, called photoacoustic mammoscope, uses infrared light to target blood vessels, creating an image of the breast. Tumors have more blood vessels than the surrounding tissue. Infrared light is delivered in billionth-of-a-second pulses to tissue, where it is scattered and absorbed. The blood vessels expand slightly when they absorb the light, generating ultrasound sound waves that are used to create the map.
The Dutch researchers who developed the technique predict that it will cost less than mammography and MRI if the device makes it to market, and can image challenging dense breasts effectively.
Researcher Srirang Manohar believes that the device may be able to detect tumors at an earlier stage than ultrasound screening, though he notes that it is too early to tell.
"Ultrasound uses mechanical waves which require that certain elastic and density properties have been developed, which may take place at later time points in tumor progression," he told DOTmed News. "Photoacoustics [looks] at blood vessel formation around a tumor, which could be manifested earlier in cancer development. But it is simply not known if the tumor vascularization is a reliable indicator of breast disease, and this should be studied in carefully designed clinical studies."
Currently, the images the mammoscope creates are less fine than those from MRI and X-ray, but going forward, the researchers plan to improve its resolution and add the capability to image using different wavelengths of light at once, which they say will improve tumor detectability.
The researchers are now preparing the device for larger clinical trials.