Though mammography helps to provide early detection of breast cancer, it is a modality that suffers from limitations, particularly in dense breasts.
A new technology, developed at Caltech, may have the potential to eclipse mammographies for spotting cancerous lesions. The photoacoustic system sends near-infrared laser light into breast tissue and detectors are used to spot ultrasonic waves that return. Because the light is absorbed disproportionately by hemoglobin molecules, their signal is stronger, and they end up more visible to the detector. Since most of the hemoglobin is present within blood vessels, the scan effectively shows the outline of the local vasculature.
Tumors are highly vascularized, so the presence of lots of vessels surrounding a lesion strongly points to the potential for the presence of cancer. It is capable of resolving objects as small as a quarter of a millimeter at a tissue depth of 4 centimeters.
The technology, referred to as photoacoustic computed tomography, or PACT, requires only 15 seconds to scan a breast and doesn’t expose the patient to any dangerous radiation.
PACT will require extensive testing before it’s introduced as a commonly used modality in clinical practice. Hopefully soon, though, women will be able to avoid painful breast compressions, too many false positives, and the unnecessary biopsies that often follow.
Study in Nature Communications: Single-breath-hold photoacoustic computed tomography of the breast…