October 26, 2012 by Victoria.Gant
Wan Shih, a Drexel University professor and biomedical engineer, created a handheld, radiation-free device that can detect breast cancer in instances where mammography has failed.
Rather than using the image-based technology of a mammogram, this device uses a sensor to detect small displacements on the surface of a breast. It can then differentiate the malignant tumors from benign ones.
While the device is not expected to substitute or replace the use of a mammogram, its portability and low cost makes it an asset in regions of the world where mammograms are rare. In places like the United States, it could be used in addition to a mammogram for extra security in breast cancer screenings.
This type of extra security is vital for women whose breasts are dense or small. Mammogram technology does not work as well for these women, and in addition to being a painful, uncomfortable experience, it often yields incorrect results. Shih’s device is designed with these women in mind.
The device could also be used in routine checkups for “older women and women at high risk,” Shih wrote. Women at high risk consist primarily of those who have already had cancer, such as Shih, a breast cancer survivor herself. This method of screening could make detecting the return of cancer much quicker and easier when compared to the use of a mammogram.
On the success of her device, Shih wrote that the most rewarding part about working on her project was “when the results came in that shows it could detect cancers missed by mammography and cancers that are not palpable.” Her device successfully revealed cancerous tumors that could not be felt with human hands.
Shih is working on several other projects and still focusing on the fight against cancer.
“One project is a cancer molecular probe that can help surgeons during surgery to check if the surgical margin is clear of cancer,” Shih wrote in an email.
Even though it may be five to 10 years before this radiation-free technology is available for mainstream use, the development of this device may lead to breakthroughs in other areas of cancer treatment.
“The device is a diagnostic/screening tool to find cancer earlier. The technology may be applied to other cancers such as skin cancer and prostate cancer,” Shih wrote.