A new system that uses sensors and AI technology has been invented by researchers. It will catch breast cancer early, save money, and all without exposing the patients to radiation.
The technology was created by researchers at the University of Waterloo in Canada, and uses harmless microwaves and AI software to detect early-stage tumors in a matter of minutes.
Early detection and low radiation as priorities
"Our top priorities were to make this detection-based modality fast and inexpensive," said Omar Ramahi, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Waterloo. "We have incredibly encouraging results and we believe that is because of its simplicity."
The device is still a prototype, and is the end result of 15 years' worth of hard work, costing under $5,000 to build. The reason the research took such a long time is that the team was looking for ways of using microwaves to detect tumors and not imaging.
The device is a small sensor that sits in an adjustable box which is around 15 centimeters square. It's positioned beneath an opening on a padded examination table, and then the patient lies face-down on the table with one breast positioned in the box at a time.
Then, the sensor emits microwaves that bounce back and are ultimately processed by AI software on a computer.
The device is so sensitive that it can pick up anomalies that are smaller than one centimeter in diameter — roughly the equivalent of the size of a pea.
Detecting a tumor early would enable the patient to be referred onwards and run more tests, including MRIs, with the ultimate hope of eradicating it swiftly and early.
As Ramahi pointed out, "If women were screened regularly with this, potential problems would be caught much sooner – in the early stages of cancer. Our system can complement existing technology, reserving much more expensive options for when they’re really needed."
"We need a mixture, a combination of technologies. When our device sent up a red flag, it would mean more investigation was warranted," he continued.
If cutting down costs and wait times for patients wasn't enough, the device also eliminates the issues that arise through exposure to radiation. Moreover, it's a more comfortable option than mammograms, as there is no pressure on the patient's breasts.
The team has applied for a patent and started a company called Wave Intelligence Inc. of Waterloo in order to commercialize the system, and hopes to start trials on patients within the next six months.