Researchers used light waves in a newly explored region of the electromagnetic spectrum--the terahertz region--to examine excised breast tissue and determine if the removed tissue margins were clear of cancer, with good results. This technology has the potential to eliminate the need for multiple surgeries and tissue samples to get clear surgical margins.
"We found that terahertz light could reliably distinguish between normal breast tissue, tumor and even early-stage 'in situ' cancers in excised tissue samples," said Vincent P. Wallace, Ph.D., lead investigator at TeraView, who worked with Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, England, in conducting the study. "This technology could aid the surgeon in immediately identifying residual cancer after the main tumor has been removed, thus minimizing the need for additional surgical procedures."
Currently, excised tissue samples must be sent for histopathologic examination, which typically takes several days. Thus, surgeons don't know if all the tumor has been removed until well after the surgical procedure has been completed, and often, repeat surgeries have to be scheduled. For the first time, however, terahertz imaging has the potential to eliminate the need for subsequent procedures by allowing the surgeon to analyze tissue samples during the initial excision procedure.
Terahertz light is located between the infrared and microwave portions of the electromagnetic spectrum. The researchers found that by placing a slice of excised breast tissue on a special quartz plate and exposing it to terahertz light, the light waves reflected from the tissue contained unique information about its state. The researchers were able to distinguish both invasive and noninvasive breast carcinomas from healthy tissue.