Detecting breast cancer spread by white light - groundbreaking technology

Surgeons of the future may use light to tell whether breast cancer has spread, clinical research fellow Andrew Lee told a news briefing at the 3rd European Breast Cancer Conference in Barcelona on Wednesday (20 March).

Optical detection of breast cancer is an exciting technological development from researchers at University College London (UCL) in the UK. Mr Lee is presenting a paper to delegates today describing the use of light scattering to detect whether breast cancer has spread to the lymph glands in the armpit.

"The procedure involves feeding tiny pulses of harmless white light though a thin optical fibre onto the tissue surface at the site where cancer is suspected," he said. "Light scattered back from the tissue is picked up by a second fibre, which takes the light to a spectrometer where the intensities at different wavelengths can be recorded, and analysed on a portable computer. The analysis compares the optical signature to those from previous examples of normal and cancerous tissue, and if the results are similar enough then it may be possible to make a diagnosis without the need to remove any tissue."

The joint research team is lead by Professor Stephen Bown at the National Medical Laser Centre and Mr Mohammed Keshtgar at the Department of Surgery, UCL. The research, which is supported by the United States Army, is in collaboration with the Institute of Nuclear Medicine and Department of Pathology at UCL and Professor Irving Bigio at the Department of Biomedical Engineering, Boston University.

Mr Lee explained that over the past four years optical measurements have been taken during breast surgery on over 200 consenting patients. Samples of both normal and suspicious breast tissue were examined as well as lymph glands that had been removed from the armpit to check if the cancer had spread. These optical biopsies could be compared with the results of the conventional biopsies (examined under a microscope) when the result

Contact: Margaret Willson
Federation of European Cancer Societies

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