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Testing a new method for detection of breast cancer

Start Year: 2017
Finish Year: 2018
Chief Investigator: Professor Martin Ebert
Grant Type: Innovator Grant
Institution: Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital | University of Western Australia

Mammography is the standard method for diagnosing breast cancer and although it is proven to save lives, it is limited in its ability to detect tumours in women with dense breast tissue. More effective imaging techniques that can see tumours despite dense breast tissue would be a major advancement in screening and early detection of breast cancer.

One way to do this is by measuring the electrical properties of tumours. Our bodies are made up of many different substances of differing density and water concentration, giving them unique electrical signatures. Cancerous tumours have a different composition to the surrounding healthy breast tissue and therefore have a different and identifiable electrical signature.

Professor Martin Ebert
Professor Martin Ebert

In this study Professor Martin Ebert and colleagues from the fields of breast surgery (Professor Christobel Saunders), magnetic geophysics (Professor Alexey Veryaskin), biomedical engineering (Dr Brendan Kennedy), the physics of precise measurements (Professor Michael Tobar) and medical physics (Assoc/Prof Michael House, Dr Pejman Rowshanfarzad) will take a technique developed for mineral exploration – used to measure the different electrical properties of neighbouring natural substances – to see if it can be adapted to detecting breast cancer.

This method should provide very precise information about the breast composition – we hope it will allow us to detect tumours that are very small and also differentiate abnormalities that are harmless or non-cancerous. Professor Ebert believes it will also provide a 3D image of the size and parameters of the tumour to help guide biopsies and surgical tumour removal.

Mammography exposes women to small amounts of potentially damaging ionising radiation and many find it physically uncomfortable. At low frequencies and low power, this new innovative method would be very safe while enabling deeper imaging penetration than current screening methods. No contact with the patient would be required.

The ‘extra-low-frequency imaging system’ (ELFIS) should be equally applicable in low-density and high-density breasts and could be a significant advancement in detection for younger women who typically have denser breast tissue.