New breast cancer scanner approved

breast cancerA promising new breast scanning technology with none of the radiation dangers associated with mammograms has been approved for sale by Health Canada.

Known as SoftScan, the device uses infrared lasers to detect and monitor malignancies, even in dense breast tissue that mammography can fail to penetrate.

The new machine will not replace mammograms, which will continue to be the standard tool for pinpointing breast cancers for the foreseeable future, said Dr. Nathalie Duchesne, a professor of radiology at Quebec City's Laval University.

"There are no side effects to this technology," said Duchesne, who has worked in clinical trials with SoftScan for nearly a decade and is a paid consultant for Advanced Research Technologies Inc., which makes the machines.

But it still needs to be extensively tested to determine its usefulness in detecting cancer, a top breast radiologist at Toronto's Princess Margaret Hospital said.

Dr. Pavel Crystal, who is involved with a trial of the machine, said SoftScan is not ready for clinical use and women cannot trust its results.

"The idea is nice, but behind the idea you need performance," Crystal said. "Currently, there is not any data on performance."

While previous trials determined its safety, it has yet to prove itself as a cancer-fighting technology, Crystal said.

Utilizing low-intensity lasers, the machine scans for hemoglobin in the blood. Malignant tumours suck more oxygen out of the blood than normal tissue or benign growths, Duchesne said, and the area around them contains different levels of the oxygen-carrying blood component.

SoftScan also eliminates the discomfort of mammograms, which require breasts be compressed between two plates. Instead, women lie face down on a table with their breasts in a cup-like area cut into the surface. A container is filled with a milk-like "optical liquid" that helps enhance the image; brief laser pulses are sent from one side and captured with a camera on the other. "The camera will capture the laser wave and depending what the wave hit — say a cancer or a cyst or a benign tumour — the wave will look different," Duchesne said.

While the scanner has been approved for sale in Canada, it will be subjected to ongoing trials across the country. Duchesne said doctors must image "thousands and thousands and thousands of women" to determine its ultimate usefulness.

source - The Star 


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