New radar imaging system could improve breast screening

In collaboration with the Press Association

Scientists at Bristol University have developed the world's first radar breast imaging system which is now being trialled by North Bristol NHS Trust (NBT).

The team has been working on the technology for a number of years and believes that it could improve the way in which breast cancer screening is carried out.

Conventional mammograms use radiation, but the new technology images the breast using radio waves.

Dr Ian Craddock, from the University of Bristol's department of electrical and electronic engineering, explained: "This new imaging technique works by transmitting radio waves of a very low energy and detecting reflected signals; it then uses these signals to make a 3D image of the breast.

"This is basically the same as any radar system, such as the radars used for air traffic control at our airports."

Mike Shere, associate specialist breast clinician at NBT, revealed that around 60 women have been examined using the radar breast imaging system at Frenchay so far.

He said: "It takes less time to operate than a mammogram - approximately six minutes for both breasts compared with 30 to 45 minutes for an MRI - and like an MRI it provides a very detailed 3D digital image.

"Women love it as they compare it to a mammogram and find the whole experience much more comfortable."

The technology is also much safer than a mammogram, according to Professor Alan Preece, from the University's Medical Physics department.

He explained that the machine uses ground penetrating radar similar to that used to detect mines. It takes 400 pictures, each taking a quarter of a second, of the breast, and these are then used to form a 3D image.

"Women do not feel any sensation and it equates to the same type of radiation exposure as speaking into a mobile phone at arm's length which makes it much safer," he revealed.

"We are constantly learning and adapting and it has been particularly easy to work with NBT, we have seen some very promising results so far."

Dr Kat Arney, senior science information officer at Cancer Research UK, said "We know that breast screening saves thousands of lives, but because standard mammography uses X-rays, it can cause a very small increase in cancer risk.

"Although the benefits of mammography screening far outweigh the risks, it is important to keep looking for alternatives. We will be interested to see how this new technology develops in the future."

Trials using the technology are ongoing and the team now plan to 'test blind' - studying images from the new machine as well as those produced by conventional screening and seeing whether the radar images pick up the same abnormalities.

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