Detector sheds light on breast cancer

March 28, 1997

THES reporters review the best of the papers from the Institute of Physics annual congress in Leeds

SAFER techniques for detecting breast cancer without using X-rays could go on trial as early as next year.

Physicists at the University of Hertfordshire are developing computer-based systems to analyse tissue using light alone.

The new method would involve strapping optical fibres onto patients to send in light and measuring the amount of light reflected back at different angles.

This information would be fed into a computer to show the state of the tissue and blood supply.

Current methods of taking body images depend on X-rays, which are expensive to administer and can be harmful.

The advantages in the system are that it does not involve harmful radiation, is relatively cheap and allows doctors to study the amount of oxygen present in tissue and blood.

While light scatters more than X-rays and therefore cannot give such a clear picture, the information it gives on oxygenation is a more valuable indicator of how efficiently the body is functioning.

Pieter Van der Zee, senior lecturer in physics at Hertfordshire, said clinical trials could start within a year.

The techniques will be useful in screening cancers, detecting gangrenous tissue and for studying the brains of new-born babies.

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