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Infrared breast cancer detection

Indian researchers are making groundbreaking research in the field of cancer diagnosis. Two separate projects are underway making use of infrared and near infrared light in the detection of breast cancer.

The announcement of these projects comes shortly after a previous article in Health Issues India covering a study at Tezpur University regarding the usage of cobra venom coupled with nanoparticles to detect tumour margins. It would appear that Indian research is at the forefront of the development of novel techniques in the field of cancer.

Of the two breast cancer projects, the first is currently in the research stages. Under development by the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bengaluru, the project is led by Professor K Rajan of the IISc’s department of physics and utilises near-infrared optical tomography, for which it recently received a patent.. It is currently awaiting human trials.

The process itself involves the directing of near-infrared light, with wavelengths between 600nm and 900nm towards the breasts, the light passes through the tissue and is scattered. The technology being developed records the intensity of light both entering and emerging from the tissue, as well as the direction of exit. This data can then be put together into a cross sectional analysis of the breast.

The detection method relies on the fact that photon scattering and absorption in tumour tissue is different when compared to healthy tissue. This means that cross sectional analysis can reveal any areas where the near-infrared light exiting the tissue is abnormal enough to warrant suspicion, and so theoretically diagnose the presence of cancerous tissue.

The second project, “iBreastExam” is already in the process of production and marketing. Already having peer reviewed papers testing its efficacy the iBreastExam has sold a number of units in upwards of seven countries and has FDA approval in the USA. Developed by Philadelphia-Mumbai based UELifeSciences the product seems well on its way to worldwide marketing. In a market expected to reach $4.5 billion globally by 2022 this could provide a well needed boost to Indian scientific innovation.

The device is unique in the sense that it is portable and requires very little training to use. This, in itself, is revolutionary: cancer diagnosis may soon be a procedure doctors could perform at the patient’s own house.

The device works by utilising infrared photography to create a thermal map of the breast, identifying abnormalities that are then considered to be cancer hotspots. Secondary to this, the device employs a patented tactile sensor. Using top down or lateral manipulation of the tissue, the device measures tissue elasticity.

Tumours, due to abnormal division and growth in the cancerous cells, will have a differing structure from healthy tissue. This differing structure will not show the common elasticity expected of tissue within the breasts, and may inhibit the elasticity of the surrounding tissue. As such these regions may be picked up by the device, much in the same way a doctor would perform an examination looking for abnormal lumps within the breast. Again this gives the iBreastExam the advantage of not needing specialist training.

Both projects provide a solution to the traditionally used x-rays, the radiation from which is a cancer risk itself. Multiple exposure to these x-rays is not recommended for this reason, and so constant check ups of the progression of the cancer are not routine. These projects allow for constant observation of tumour progression, which could improve cancer treatment exponentially by increasing specificity of surgeries as well as knowing exactly the extent of the cancer progression.

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