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Microwaves May Provide Early Detection Of Breast Cancer

A novel breast cancer imaging technology that uses microwaves instead of X-rays to detect breast tumors is being developed by researchers at Northwestern University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Interstitial, Inc., an Evanston-based startup company.

The new microwave technology is based on a fundamentally different principle than X-ray mammography, which shadows potential tumors by passing high-energy ionizing radiation all the way through the highly compressed breast to expose film on the other side. In contrast, the microwave approach uses a miniature antenna contacting the skin surface to bounce very low energy, non-ionizing microwave pulses off potential tumors. No breast compression is required.

"We are essentially designing a breast tumor radar," said Allen Taflove, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Northwestern's Robert R. McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science. Taflove directed extensive supercomputer modeling of the microwave sensor and aided in the development of the technology. "We believe that this technology has the potential to complement X-ray mammography by detecting tumors that are invisible to X-rays, while avoiding X-ray exposure and potentially uncomfortable breast compression."

Scientists have been searching for screening and diagnostic methods that could improve on X-ray mammography. According to the National Cancer Institute, X-ray mammograms miss between 10 percent and 30 percent of malignant tumors. Many of the suspicious masses they do detect turn out to be benign -- after costly and invasive biopsies. Ultrasound, MRI and new optical breast imaging techniques are generally not foreseen as front-line screening methods for healthy women.

Highly sensitive microwave detection may help to reduce breast cancer mortality by warning of malignant tumors at a very early stage. The anticipated low cost and painless application could make it useful for routine screening. Detailed computer si
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Contact: Bill Burton
b-burton@nwu.edu
847-491-3115
Northwestern University
28-Oct-1998


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