Such early detection should enable doctors to more successfully treat breast cancer before it has formed a tumor or spread to lymph nodes, said Martin Tornai, Ph.D., associate professor of radiology and biomedical engineering at Duke and developer of the device. The new camera has undergone extensive testing in artificial breasts and will begin testing in women this spring.
The camera uses nuclear medicine to pick up chemical changes to breast cells that signal the cells are becoming malignant, said Tornai. The camera should be particularly useful for detecting tumors in large or dense breasts, which are difficult to image using traditional mammography because X-rays often cannot penetrate them. Moreover, the geometry of the new device allows for imaging small breasts and the nearby chest wall. It can even image the axillary lymph nodes to look for evidence of metastasis -- which traditional mammography cannot do. The new device works without any breast compression, and women may not be required to remove their bras.
Tornai will present results with the new device Dec. 4, 2003, at the 26th Annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.
The key to the new scanner is that it detects changes in the behavior of cancer cells rather than structural changes, such as tumor masses, which take much longer to develop, said Tornai.
"Once you start seeing structural changes using mammography, that indicates the molecular process has been going on for awhile," he said. "If we can detect subtle changes in cells before a tumor has developed, we have a better chance of treating the abnormal cells in their earliest stages of malignancy."