Researchers at MIT have developed a wearable ultrasound system that is intended to allow women at high risk of breast cancer to perform an ultrasound scan on themselves at home, and may also let patients with early-stage malignancy or suspicious lesions to monitor how they are progressing. The technology can help patients to avoid having to attend a clinic, and may also help them to identify tumors that arise between routine breast checks at a clinic.
The system consists of a piezoelectric ultrasound scanning module that fits into a rig that can be affixed to a bra. The rig includes openings into which the ultrasound module can be affixed, with six different orientations of scanning available, and ensures that the entire breast can be scanned.
Early detection is crucial in cancer. For breast cancer, there is a nearly 100% survival rate for tumors that are found in their very early stages. However, for later stage tumors, the survival rate plummets to 25%. This statistic is behind the routine breast scanning that many women undergo. However, what happens if a tumor arises between routine scans? These are known as interval cancers, and account for approximately 30% of all breast cancers, and they can be more aggressive than tumors discovered during routine scanning.
Moreover, some patients are highly predisposed to breast cancer, with a significant level of personal risk of developing a tumor, typically because of inherited genetic mutations. Such patients often undergo a preemptive mastectomy to reduce their risk, but more expansive breast monitoring technologies may provide an alternative, and at least delay the need for a mastectomy.
“We changed the form factor of the ultrasound technology so that it can be used in your home. It’s portable and easy to use, and provides real-time, user-friendly monitoring of breast tissue,” says Canan Dagdeviren, a researcher involved in the study. “My goal is to target the people who are most likely to develop interval cancer. With more frequent screening, our goal to increase the survival rate to up to 98 percent.”
The piezoelectric ultrasound patch sits within a rig that allows the user to scan in several key locations, covering the whole breast. In tests so far, the technology could distinguish breast cysts at 0.3 centimeters in diameter, which is comparable to early-stage breast tumors.
See a video from MIT about the technology:
Study in journal Science Advances: Conformable ultrasound breast patch for deep tissue scanning and imaging