According to new research, microwave imaging can be used to successfully monitor the progress of breast cancer treatment. Not only that, microwave tomography can distinguish between breast cancer, benign growths and normal tissue.
Breast cancer affects many women and early detection usually means fast and effective treatment. X-ray mammography is currently the most effective imaging approach used by clinicians for detecting breast cancer. However, despite significant progress over the past few years, this technique still results in many false positives and false negative prognoses.
On the other hand microwave imaging can be used to detect tumors at an early, curable stage. Malignant breast cancer tissues have a higher water content compared to normal tissues - so when they are exposed to microwaves, they cause more microwave ‘scattering’ than the normal fatty breast tissues do, which have low water content.
In this study, eight women with breast cancer were treated with chemotherapy until surgery, as part of their normal therapy. During treatment, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was supplemented with microwave tomography.
The study authors found regions of high conductivity which corresponded to tumors while low conductivity meant normal tissues. Unlike other imaging techniques, body mass index or BMI which indicates the amount of body fat, age or breast density did not affect the results.
What’s more, this imaging technique is relatively inexpensive and can be repeated many times during treatment. By recalling patients for scans as their treatment progresses, the study authors could actually see tumors shrinking in women who responded to chemotherapy.
At the same time, microwave tomography can also be used to identify women who don’t respond to initial therapy, so that their treatment can be modified appropriately at an early stage.
In other words, microwave tomographic imaging can show up differences between normal and cancerous breast tissues based on their water content - suggesting that it may be a very useful tool for early stage breast cancer detection.