By Dr Indoo Ambulkar
Breast cancer, is the most prevalent form of cancer affecting women, can occur when there’s an abnormal growth of cells in any of the breasts that accumulate and form a lump or a mass. Hormonal, lifestyle and environmental factors are some of the major risk factors of breast cancer. This could also be hereditary and may pass from generation to generation due to some complex interaction of one’s genetic makeup with the environment. While this usually begins in the milk-producing ducts, it could spread to lymph nodes and other body parts, if not detected early and controlled. In fact, when detected early, a majority of breast cancers can be completely cured and any kind of relapse can be prevented.
Also, early detection significantly improves the prognosis and reduces fatality due to breast cancer in the long run. The lesser the time taken to identify it, the higher is the chance of cure. In recent times, technological advances have made several breakthroughs in diagnosing and treating breast cancer. Here’s how technology makes early detection of breast cancer easy and convenient, enabling oncologists to save several lives.
Tech enabled diagnostic techniques to detect breast cancer at wee stage
Advancements in mammography: While mammography is the most common technique of detecting a tumour in the breasts using a low dose of X-ray, technological progresses like a tomosynthesis and a digital mammography have made the procedure more precise, accurate and enables detection of tumours lying in the deeper, overlapping layers of the tissues.
Tomosynthesis also known as three-dimensional (3-D) mammography and digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT) is an advanced form of breast imaging or mammography using a low-dose X-ray system and computer reconstructions creating a three-dimensional image of the breasts.
Digital Mammography provides an improved quality of images in a shorter period of time compared to film mammography. Digital Mammography can be of two types – Contrast Enhanced Digital Mammography and Computer Assisted Digital Mammography. These provide accession, processing and display of images separately, a broader range of resolution and densities in dense breasts with minimal noise during image accession. It prevents exposure of patients to unnecessary radiation and helps patients to avoid uncomfortable tests for the processing of images.
Contrast Enhanced Digital Mammography is a more advanced form of digital mammography that uses two unique techniques – temporal subtraction technique, and bifold-energy techniques, providing the advantage of breast imaging with better sensitivity and precision.
Computer aided detection (CAD) uses computer technology with mammography or MRI techniques for identifying structural changes, masses, etc. It empowers the conventional technique with the prowess of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and helps in easy detection of micro calcified tissues.
2D FDTD Analysis: The 2-dimensional finite difference time domain technique uses electromagnetic rays for computational analysis of tumours and effectively detects tumours with 2 mm or smaller in width amidst a host of normal breast tissues, which otherwise, may get lost and remain undetected. Also, it is comparatively safer and more comfortable than conventional mammography as it requires examination of only one side of the breast and no exposure to ionising radiations.
Radionuclide methods: These methods used in positron emission tomography (PET), scintimammography, positron emission mammography (PEM) and breast specific gamma imaging (BSGI) provide enhanced specificity and contrast between tumour and normal breast cancer tissue. It enables the examination of the stage of cancer and improvement in therapy responses.
Nanoparticles: The specificity in breast cancer imaging can be significantly amped up by using biocompatible and active nanoparticles as contrast agents. These are extremely beneficial diagnostic agents as it has increased blood retention time, large surface area or different ligands interaction that may be used in breast cancer diagnosis.
Breathe biopsy enabling the non-invasive collection and analysis of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in exhaled breath, providing valuable information about disease processes occurring in the body right from the initial stages; mammary ductoscopy, a medical diagnostic procedure for viewing and collecting epithelial cells and other internal features of the milk ducts making it possible to detect smaller abnormalities that may escape mammograms, MRIs or ultrasounds are some of the advanced early detection methods for breast cancer that would make the future of precision cancer care. Some of the other emerging tech enabled breast cancer diagnosis methods include X-ray diffraction of hair, HER 2 treatment, magnetic resonance elastography, optical imaging.
Untimely detection of breast cancer leading to poor prognosis is the major challenge faced in our country due to inadequate diagnosis methods. The scope of recovery gets minimal when breast cancer is diagnosed at the third stage, which otherwise is very much curable if detected early. This technology driven state-of-the-art diagnosis techniques are very promising and can play a vital role in early breast cancer diagnosis. Consult a doctor or a specialist to learn more about these technological advancements.
Dr Indoo Ambulkar, Senior Medical Oncologist at HCG Cancer Centre, Borivali (W), Mumbai
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