Scanning device can generate 30 images per second, and shows abnormal tissue clearly on a screen

A University of Manchester researcher has developed a portable scanner that is capable of detecting malignant and benign tumors within the breast in a matter of seconds. 

Professor Zhipeng Wu, from the University of Manchester's School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, used radio frequency technology to design and create a scanner that produces real-time video images of tumors present in the breast.

Breast cancer is the second leading cause of death in women, amounting to 8.2 percent of all cancer-related deaths. Up until now, mammography has been the main method of detecting tumors, and for women over the age of 50, this method offers 95 percent accuracy. But for women under 50 years of age, the detection rate is as low as 60 percent. 

Radio frequency technology has been used to detect breast cancer tumors in the past, and has been proven by researchers in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. But these scanners were not portable, meaning they could only be used in a hospital environment, and they took a few minutes to produce just one image. 

Now, Wu's portable scanner, which utilizes computer tomography and real-time radio frequency technology, provides a faster and less-intrusive means of testing for tumors in the breast. To do this, the breast is inserted into a cup and an image appears on a screen. The sensor is capable of detecting contrasts in tissue at radio frequencies, and if a tumor or other abnormality is present, it will show up clearly in red on the screen. 

While other systems like mammography are based on density, radio frequency technology is based on dielectric contrasts between diseased and normal breast tissues, making it much more accurate than previous cancer-detecting systems and scanners. 

Not only is Wu's scanner much clearer and accurate, but it is also faster and more convenient than any other radio frequency scanner being used for this purpose. This scanner is capable of producing 30 images every second, and since it is portable, it can be used at a patient's home. 

"The system we have is portable and as soon as you lie down, you can get a scan - it's real-time," said Wu. "The real-time imaging minimizes the chance of missing a breast tumor during scanning."

In addition, the scanner works using the same technology as a cell phone, but uses only a small fraction of the power, making it a low-cost and safe device. 

"Other systems also need to use a liquid or gel as a matching substance, such as in an ultrasound, to work, but with our system you don't need that - it can be done simply in oil, milk, water or even with a bra on," said Wu. 

Wu submitted the scanner to the IET Innovation Awards. The winners will be announced in November. 

"Although there is still research to be done, the system has great potential to bring a new way for breast cancer diagnosis," said Wu. "This will benefit millions of women in both developed and developing countries, bearing in mind that one in nine women may develop breast cancer in their lifetime."

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