From: David A Gabel, ENN
Published October 29, 2010 02:52 PM

Innovation: Portable Breast Scanners

A new portable scanner for detecting early signs of breast cancer has been developed at the University of Manchester by Professor Zhipeng Wu. The device works by radio frequency technology that can show the presence of tumors on an computer screen. The amazing thing is that it can show the image within seconds on the computer screen, rather than a x-ray mammography which takes minutes and can only be done at hospital or specialist care centers. This new technology can revolutionize the early detection for women with breast cancer.


Around the world, breast cancer comprises about ten percent of all cancer incidents for women. Breast cancer can be fatal, but there are different ways of treating it: surgery, hormone therapy, chemotherapy, and radiation. Unfortunately, according to statistics from 2004, breast cancer caused 519,000 deaths and accounted for one percent of all deaths worldwide. The key in beating the disease is to detect the cancer in its infant stage before it has a chance to grow.

Professor Wu, professor at the University's School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, says that the new portable scanner can offer patients real-time video images that would clearly show the presence of any tumor. The new method would be much quicker and less intrusive. The device could be used at GP offices, reducing wait times and would allow patients to avoid costly and unnecessary mammographies. It can even be used at home.

The patented radio frequency technology uses computer tomography and works with the same technology as a mobile phone. The casing for the device is no larger than a bread basket, making it portable and low-cost.

Mammography, the standard detection for breast cancer, can give results up to 95 percent accuracy for women over 50, but is far less effective for younger women. For those under 50, it provides results that are only up to 60 percent accurate. However, it is at this age when detection is the most important. Thousands of lives could be saved if they are diagnosed and treated at an early stage.

While mammographies use density to detect the cancer, the new radio frequency technique works by detecting the dielectric contrasts between normal and affected breast tissues. The malignant tissue has a higher permittivity and conductivity to radio frequency, and will therefore show up differently (in red) on the scan.

It works instantly, as soon as the breasts are placed in the cup. 30 images can be scanned in real-time, in one second, making the process fast and painless. According to Professor Wu, "The real-time imaging minimizes the chance of missing a breast tumor during scanning. Other systems also need to use a liquid or gel as a matching substance, such as in an ultrasound, to work but with our system you don't need that – it can be done simply in oil, milk, water or even with a bra on."

Professor Wu has submitted his innovation to the IET Innovation Awards under the Electronics category. The winners will be announced this November.

For more information:

pic shows healthy (left) and cancerous (right) breast

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