Breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer (after lung cancer), and kills over half a million people worldwide annually.
While medical diagnostic technology has advanced rapidly over the last few decades, over 80% of breast cancer cases are first discovered by a woman or her partner, typically by finding an abnormal lump that feels different from the surrounding breast tissue. This must be followed up by a mammogram in order to objectively confirm the diagnosis and begin treatment. As most cancer types, the earlier the cancer is detected, the higher the chances of a successful recovery.
A new device has been invented by Dr. David Watmough could help millions of women avoid debilitating mastectomies, chemotherapy, or even death. The Breastlight works by shining powerful red LEDs through the breast, allowing women and their partners to see what is normal for their breasts and identify changes over time. They will be able to see veins and other blood vessels as dark lines in their breasts. Regular inspections could reveal dark spots, a possible signal of the growth of new blood vessels which feed cancerous tumors.
The Breastlight has already helped at least one woman during trial. Dorothy McCormick, a former nurse, was one of the first women to try the device. The 57-year-old grandmother had initially gone to her doctor due to pain in her left breast. The doctor diagnosed it as mastitis, or inflammation of the breast tissue. Antibiotics were prescribed to her, but the pain persisted. She heard through a friend of the trials for the Breastlight and decided to try it out.
"In my left breast it showed up small dark areas which suggested there could be new blood vessels growing," stated McCormick. She returned to her doctor and insisted on a mammogram and biopsy, which confirmed she had a 2cm tumor. Another patient was reportedly able to see her tumor receding as she went through treatment.
Development of the Breastlight was funded by a £2million (~$3 million USD) investment by PWB Health, a British firm. The company states that the Breastlight is intended to be used as part of an ongoing breast awareness routine, and aims to help women become more familiar with how their breasts look and feel. It is not intended to replace a clinical breast examination or mammogram, but instead serve as a "valuable personal aid that supports and encourages women to be breast aware".
The Breastlight has been used by women in the United Kingdom since November 2008.
The company claims that results have been extremely favorable with women that have large or lumpy breasts who find self-examinations of their breasts difficult. Most have found that the device is easy to use and has become a part of their regular breast awareness routine. It gives them more confidence when they are checking their breasts, since many are unsure whether to report any lumps that they may find.
A study of 1,087 women conducted in July 2008 and commissioned by PWB Health assessed how the Breastlight was being used by women and how it affected their attitude to breast awareness and breast screening. Approximately 80% of those women reported that they were more confident in their breast self-examinations after using the Breastlight. Of the 1,087 women, 14 (1.3 per cent) consulted a doctor because they were concerned by the outcome of their breast self-examination. Of that number, three had follow-up mammograms, one of whom was McCormick.
The Breastlight has recently gone on sale in Canada at Rexall Pharmacies for $150 CAD. Sales in the US are currently in the negotiation stage.
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