Microwaves May Provide Early Detection Of Breast Cancer

mulations and tests of a laboratory-demonstration sensor suggest that the microwave technology may also help to discriminate malignant from benign tumors, thereby reducing the number of unnecessary surgical biopsies.

The microwave sensor works by detecting differences in water content between a malignant tumor and normal breast tissue. The device is the brainchild of Jack Bridges, chairman of Interstitial and an electrical engineer with 50 years of experience in industry and more than 60 patents to his credit. Bridges knew that microwaves interact with human tissues primarily according to water content. Since malignant tumors have a much higher water content than normal breast tissues, he conjectured that microwaves could provide the basis for a highly sensitive detection system, especially if an antenna could be constructed that exploits the "whispering gallery" phenomenon familiar to visitors of science museums. Bridges envisioned that a tumor's microwave echo could be tuned in back at the source of the radar pulse, while the noisy clutter from the complex surrounding normal tissues would be rejected.

"Once we had these key concepts, the technology began to develop very rapidly," said Susan Hagness, a former graduate student in Taflove's laboratory who received her Ph.D. in 1998. Hagness used Cray Research, Inc. supercomputers to model the microwave detection technology. "The use of supercomputers in designing the microwave sensor saved several years of development time," Bridges said.

"On the Cray supercomputers, we were able to simulate embedding a tumor within randomly oriented veins and mammary ducts and lobes in the breast," said Hagness, who is now an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is continuing to work on the technique's development. "We found that the ability of the microwave sensor to detect small tumors was only slightly affected by natural variations in the properties of

Contact: Bill Burton
Northwestern University

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