BACKGROUND: More than 1 million women in the US will have a tiny piece of living tissue removed this year to find out if they have breast cancer, waiting a week or more for the results. A new diagnostic imaging system will enable women to get test results in less than four hours. The scanner is being commercialized by DMetrix Inc., based in Tucson, Arizona.
HOW IT WORKS: The new scanner is an "array microscope," made of an assembly of 80 tiny lens systems arranged in staggered rows on a transparent disk the size of quarter. It is only about one inch in diameter. On top of this array sits a 24-megapixel camera. The array glides along the surface of a glass slide to capture its images, which can then be digitally transmitted over the Internet to any pathologist or specialist in the world for analysis. The entire process takes about one minute, and the complete image can be gathered in a single sweep, without losing resolution.
ADVANTAGES: The new ultra-rapid virtual scanner allows an immediate response, even if there is no pathologist on site, shortening the time it takes to receive test results. It provides easy access to a second opinion, as well as specialists in a specific field. And it is not just limited to breast tissue samples.
ABOUT BREAST CANCER: Breast cancer is a type of cancer in which cells in the breast become abnormal and grow and divide uncontrollably, eventually forming a mass called a tumor. Some tumors are benign, meaning that they do not invade other types of tissue, although if they become big enough, they can interfere with some bodily functions, such as the flow of blood or urine. Malignant tumors have cells that can invade nearby tissues. When a cancer "metastasizes," cells from the original tumor break off and travel to other parts of the body via the blood or lymph systems. More than 75 percent of breast cancers begin in the milk ducts within the breast. The next most common site is in the glandular tissue that makes the milk.
DO-IT-YOURSELF BREAST EXAM: Although it is not a substitute for regular tests by your doctor, women can perform a basic breast self-exam at home. In fact, more than 90 percent of all breast lumps are found by the women themselves. Breast tissue is shaped like a comma with the tail curving up toward the armpit, and normally has a lumpy feel. Because hormones can affect the breast tissue, the best time to examine your breasts is a few days after your period ends, when hormone levels are stable.