Photoacoustic technique to detect breast cancer
© University of Twente

Photoacoustic technique to detect breast cancer

Researchers at the University of Twente, the Netherlands, have developed a new system that uses light and sound to detect signs of breast cancer.

The photoacoustic technique combines lasers and photonics with ultrasound.

The patient lies face down on a bed, placing their breast into a hemispherical bowl lined with up to 100 optical fibres, and several ultrasound detectors.

Multiple images are taken from different angles. These are then assembled into a single 3D image, according to Srirang Manohar, the project co-ordinator.

Manohar said: “The imager will be non-invasive, will not require contrast agents nor use ionising radiation.

“Furthermore, the patient will feel no pain or discomfort.”

The Photoacoustic Ultrasound Mammoscopy for evaluating screening-detected abnormalities in the breast (PAMMOTH) system operates by sending short pulses of light towards the suspect lesion.

“Light scatters within the breast and is selectively absorbed by blood in the strongly vascularised tumour site,” said Manohar.

“This absorbed energy is converted into thermal energy and via thermal expansion into a pressure wave.”

This pressure wave can be picked up by the ultrasound detectors, he said. “From the detected signals the locations where the initial acoustic pressure was created can be reconstructed, which then gives a 3D map of the presence of tumour vasculature inside the breast.”

The system also analyses oxygen levels in the blood around the suspected tumour.

Researchers at University College London, UK, are developing the mathematics, image reconstruction and signal analysis techniques to interpret the information and calculate how aggressive the tumour could be.

The on-going project has received a €4.35m grant from Horizon 2020 and the PAMMOTH team aims to have a prototype ready for completion in 2021.