At-Home Breast Cancer Detector Effective

Hand-held device found over 90 percent of cancers in early trial

THURSDAY, June 9, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- A hand-held imaging device designed for use at home appears effective in detecting breast cancer in its early stages, according to a University of Pennsylvania researcher who hopes the device might be available commercially to women in a year or two.

If so, the new device, tentatively called "iFind," will make early detection of breast cancer more likely, said creator Britton Chance, professor emeritus of radiology, biophysics and biochemistry at the university's medical school.

Another expert, Dr. Juri Gelovani of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, called the new technology "encouraging," but cautioned that a larger trial must be conducted before it could be recommended for wider use.

The finding was presented Thursday at the "Era of Hope" Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program meeting, in Philadelphia.

About the size of a deck of cards, iFind uses near-infrared light to measure how much blood is flowing in different locations in the breast, Chance said. The logic behind the device is that tumors require new blood vessels to grow, so those areas will have more blood.

iFind monitors differences in blood oxygen ratios in growing cancer tissue compared to normal tissues, he added. In this way, it detects "hypermetabolism" -- the more rapid growth rate of malignant cells. When a certain threshold is passed, the device emits a light, tone or beep.

That's an indication a woman needs to go to her doctor for further breast screening, he said.

Chance's team tested the device on 116 women who came into two clinic testing sites from 1998 to 2003. "We had nurse practitioners demonstrate it," Chance said.

In all, 44 of the women had cancers, also diagnosed by standard methods, and the device had a 96 percent sensitivity rate in detecting those 44 cancers. It takes just five minutes to use, Chance said.

"The object of this device is to get the women to go to the doctor if something is wrong," Chance said. "It records what it finds on a chip when she scans it across her breasts."

iFind is not meant as a substitute for mammograms or biopsies, Chance said, but might supplement those detection methods.

Chance estimates the device would cost a couple hundred dollars to make and said it could be on the market within two years, if all goes well. Doctors might recommend it to specific patients, just as some physicians recommend certain patients use home glucose-monitoring devices, he said.

"The results of this initial study are very encouraging," said Gelovani, professor and chair of the department of experimental diagnostic imaging at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. "Yet, large population-based studies are required to reproduce the findings to validate the technology."

If the device's effectiveness bears out in additional studies, he said, it would be especially valuable for women with a predisposition to cancer, including those with a family history or those with the so-called breast cancer genes, BRCA 1 and BRCA 2.

In another study presented at the meeting, other researchers used tiny particles called nanoshells -- gold-wrapped bits of silica 20 times smaller than the average blood cell -- to search out and destroy a protein, HER2. Aggressive breast cancers typically contain high levels of the protein.

Researchers from Rice University in Houston looked at two breast cancer cell lines. One overexpressed the HER2 protein, which signals aggressive disease. The other cell line did not. One set of the nanoshells was joined to the HER2 protein so it would seek it out, lighting up other malignant cells with high HER2. Next, laser-directed heat was used to kill these invasive breast cancer cells. The researchers believe the same technique could prove effective against most soft-tissue cancers.

More information

To learn more about breast cancer, visit the American Cancer Society.

SOURCES: Britton Chance, Ph.D., Sc.D., professor emeritus of radiology, biophysics and biochemistry, University of Pennsylvania Medical School, Philadelphia; Juri Gelovani, M.D., professor and chair, University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center experimental diagnostic imaging, Houston; June 9, 2005, presentations, U.S. Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program, Era of Hope meeting, Philadelphia
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