Electricity May Help Spot Breast Cancer

Experts testing device that tracks mild current moving through tissue

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FRIDAY, May 6, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- A painless, portable device that uses electricity instead of X-rays to detect breast cancer is being assessed at about 20 centers around the world.

Impedance scanning is based on the notion that electrical current passes more easily through cancerous tissue than through normal tissue. The device produces a report rather than a breast image. The test takes about 10 minutes, doesn't require uncomfortable breast compression, and can detect very small tumors, according to preliminary studies.

This international study, which will include about 4,500 women, will determine whether impedance scanning is accurate enough for widespread use.

During impedance scanning, a series of electrodes are placed on each breast. A small amount of electricity is sent through the breasts and a computer immediately calculates and presents the results.

"For a number of years now, it's been known that when a malignancy happens in the breast, the impedance of electricity through that area decreases. Apparently, cell permeability increases so water flows through the (cancer) cells more than in normal tissue. The electrical signature of that tissue is different," Dr. James H. Craft, a radiologist at the Medical College of Georgia (MCG), said in a prepared statement.

MCG is taking part in the study, and Craft is a principal investigator. About 500 women will be enrolled at MCG Medical Center.

Craft doesn't believe that impedance scanning will ever replace mammography, but he does recognize the potential of the new technology.

"Society is always trying to find something better, more accurate, more precise, that doesn't hurt, doesn't give any radiation and doesn't cost much," Craft noted.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about breast cancer screening.

SOURCE: Medical College of Georgia, news release, April 25, 2005

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