A new “fast, painless and non-contact” way for early detection of breast cancer in women of all ages including pregnant or nursing has been developed by the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Ropar, its researchers have claimed.
The proposed technique makes use of infrared emission emanating from the breast to detect the hidden tumours at a very early stage with predefined thermal stimulus on the area under examination. “Infrared Thermography (IRT) is a fast, painless, non-contact, and non-invasive imaging method, complementary to mammography, ultrasound, and magnetic resonance imaging methods for early diagnosis of breast cancer,” Ravibabu Mulaveesala, Associate Professor, Department of Electrical Engineering, who is associated with the research said.
The widely used mammography has its limitations in detecting tumours, especially in a “dense breast”, he said.
“Dense breasts have less fat and more gland tissue in comparison to the fatty breasts, which restricts mammography to detect tumours with confidence. Especially for the tumours situated in the gland region of breast, due to the insignificant density variations between the gland and tumour regions, mammography fails to provide enough radiographic contrast between the tumour location and healthy region of the breast,” he added. Mulaveesala explained that this limits the applicability of mammography in screening of dense breasts.
“Also, mammography leads to discomfort to the patient and the exposure to harmful ionizing radiation further restricts its applicability. However, the present Active IRT technique outperforms the standard method of mammography by providing patient- friendly breast screening,” he said. The research titled “Applicability of active infrared thermography for screening of human breast: a numerical study”, has also been published in Journal of Biomedical Optics.
In the new method, an external thermal stimulus (heat/cold) is applied over the breast under examination for creating significant temperature differences (2 to 3 degrees centigrade from the ambient breast temperature) over the normal and abnormal (tumour) regions over the breast. Thermal waves generated due to applied heat stimulus diffuse into the breast and produce a similar temporal temperature distribution on the skin surface of the breast with a certain delay and amplitude.The presence of tumours inside the breast alters the heat flow resulting in temperature gradients over the surface. Further, phase and amplitude images are constructed using frequency and time-domain data analysis schemes for detecting the sub-surface tumours with improved contrast.