A new approach to breast-cancer imaging, using modified military infrared-scanning techniques in tandem with two other tests, may offer an alternative to traditional mammography and enable the accurate identification of ultra-small breast cancers.
SPIE member Phillip Bretz, a medical doctor and founder of California’s Desert Breast & Osteoporosis Institute, has proposed a diagnostic method using a FLIR A40 detector to detect the heat signature of cancers together with an OncoVue personalized genetics assessment and a HALO test, which can pick up cancers as small as 2 to 3 mm.
The proposed new system could avoid problems of false positives and false negatives, reduce costs, and create a broader and more comprehensive picture of a patient’s condition than a single test can provide.
Infrared scanning can detect the presence of malignancies, but a range of factors has held the technology back. Combining it with two other assessments, OncoVue and Halo, can produce results said to be superior to a standard mammography examination.
(Courtesy Stockton Infrared)
A technology originally developed for the military, IR imaging can detect heat associated with metabolic activity and vascular circulation. Increased heat is almost always higher in cancerous or pre-cancerous tissue than in normal breast tissue.
HALO is a relatively new diagnostic test which examines nipple aspirate fluid and can indicate the presence of abnormal cells within the breast’s milk ducts, the site for about 90% of breast cancer development. The OncoVue DNA saliva test not only indicates the degree of risk of breast cancer but also when that risk is likely to manifest. OncoVue identifies abnormal single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs, which are known to have age-specific genetic associations with breast-cancer risk.
“Using the three elements together produces a new paradigm for breast-cancer diagnosis,” Bretz says. “This involves first knowing the risk of a woman developing cancer and when that risk is likely to manifest, through information provided by OncoVue, then using the infrared study to alert us to the possibility of a developing cancer, and finally finding the occult cancer with the HALO technique.”
Disruptive biomedical technology emerging
In April, Bretz and co-author Richard Lynch, also a physician, presented results using the combined approach at SPIE Defense, Security, and Sensing in a paper titled, “Breast cancer in tough economic times: disruptive technology emerging.”
“There is a need for an alternative in monitoring women at risk and women with dense breast tissue, where mammography is less accurate and MRI too costly,” Bretz says. Mammography, which uses low-energy x-rays to spot abnormalities, is the most common imaging technique for the detection of breast cancer. Breast thermography using infrared imaging is a less common diagnostic technique.
“Abandoning mammography, ultrasound, and MRIs is not the answer, but there should be an awareness that these new technologies could hold the answer for screening, saving lives, and cost reduction,” Bretz says. If cancer is found early enough to remove with a cryogenic probe in a doctor’s office, the patient may avoid chemotherapy, radiation, and more invasive surgery.
Although thermal imaging using IR scanning has yet to become widely adopted or trusted, Bretz’ three-test technique may gain more traction if future clinical trials prove the reliability of its results.
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