Breast cancer technique to be tested on human breast tissue for the first time

March 7, 2013 by Jill Little, Science and Technology Facilities Council
Image of laser light scattering through a breast model to demonstrate the technique. Credit: Professor Nick Stone

A technique that could take away the anxious wait by patients for breast cancer results by removing the need for a needle biopsy is to have its performance evaluated for the first time, on breast tissue and lymph nodes.

The method originally invented at STFC's Central Laser Facility has already been proven as a viable option for detecting abnormalities picked up by but has not yet been tested on human ex vivo. A grant awarded to the University of Exeter and STFC in partnership with the Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council today (7 March 2013) will make this possible.

The known as Spatially Offset Raman Spectroscopy (SORS) allows non-see-through objects such as tissue to be analysed deep beneath their surface, without them being cut open. The technique is already being used in security scanners to detect and at the end of last year, PhD student Marleen Kerssens - funded by STFC's Biomedical Network and the Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust – proved through tests on pork, that the same concept could be used to detect if shadows picked up on mammograms are benign or malignant. The new grant will allow the team of researchers to optimise the sensitivity and of the technique further and, for the first time, evaluate its performance on human breast tissue that has been removed during operations (excised tissue) and put forward by consenting patients for use in research.

While still in a very early stage of research, it is hoped the technique could ultimately lead to an instant diagnosis for breast cancer at the time of a mammogram. Currently when a mammogram picks up abnormalities, a follow up is required, meaning an extra trip to the hospital for patients, associated anxiety to the patient and further cost to healthcare providers. 70-90 percent of the needle tests come back negative but not before a nervous wait by patients for the results.

Nicholas Stone the project's Principal Investigator, said: "This technique, if applied at mammography could have a huge impact on those 75,000 patients a year in the UK having to return for additional biopsies, with associated anxiety, when they are found to have nothing wrong".

Marleen Kerssens who proved that the technique could be used to detect if a cancer is malignant or benign has now finished her PhD but she said:

'' I am really pleased this line of research can be continued with the support of ESPRC. It is an exciting field of research and translation of the SORS technique to a clinical setting has the potential to reduce the amount of false positives and therefore reducing patient anxiety".

When the SORS method is applied, signatures obtained as the light from the laser passes through the small bone-like crystals (calcifications) found in breast tissues are measured and these indicate if a benign or cancerous tissue is present.

Professor Pavel Matousek, inventor of the technique, said: "It is very gratifying to see this technology, originally developed on our large facilities in the Central Laser Facility being applied in so many different ways that will have such an impact on society. As well as developing it for future diagnosis and for detecting counterfeit drugs we expect, in the future, to see the technology at airports scanning liquid explosives. This support from EPSRC enables us to keep driving this technique forward, for the timeliest benefit to both individuals and the health service".

With the technique needing a lot of refinement it would be a decade before this test could be routinely used in hospitals.

Explore further: Enhancing breast cancer detection

Related Stories

Enhancing breast cancer detection

November 14, 2012
Straightforward imaging with an infrared, thermal, camera for detecting breast cancer early without the discomfort or inconvenience of mammography or biomolecular tests, according to a study to be published in the International ...

Gamma imaging provides superior tumor detection for dense breasts

June 6, 2011
A study revealed at SNM's 58th Annual Meeting is comparing the breast-tumor detection capabilities of two very different imaging technologies—breast-specific gamma imaging (BSGI), which provides functional images of ...

Recommended for you

New approach attacks 'undruggable' cancers from the outside in

January 23, 2018
Cancer researchers have made great strides in developing targeted therapies that treat the specific genetic mutations underlying a patient's cancer. However, many of the most common cancer-causing genes are so central to ...

Study: Cells of three advanced cancers die with drug-like compounds that reverse chemo failure

January 23, 2018
Researchers at Southern Methodist University have discovered three drug-like compounds that successfully reverse chemotherapy failure in three of the most commonly aggressive cancers—ovarian, prostate and breast.

'Hijacker' drives cancer in some patients with high-risk neuroblastoma

January 23, 2018
Researchers have identified mechanisms that drive about 10 percent of high-risk neuroblastoma cases and have used a new approach to show how the cancer genome "hijacks" DNA that regulates other genes. The resulting insights ...

Enzyme inhibitor combined with chemotherapy delays glioblastoma growth

January 23, 2018
In animal experiments, a human-derived glioblastoma significantly regressed when treated with the combination of an experimental enzyme inhibitor and the standard glioblastoma chemotherapy drug, temozolomide.

Researchers identify a protein that keeps metastatic breast cancer cells dormant

January 23, 2018
A study headed by ICREA researcher Roger Gomis at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) has identified the genes involved in the latent asymptomatic state of breast cancer metastases. The work sheds light ...

Boosting cancer therapy with cross-dressed immune cells

January 22, 2018
Researchers at EPFL have created artificial molecules that can help the immune system to recognize and attack cancer tumors. The study is published in Nature Methods.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.