Of all the types of cancer known, breast cancer is the most common one occurring in women globally with many new cases diagnosed every year. It is one of the top causes of death from cancer in women. However, the disease is no longer as dreadful as it was several years back. The survival rates for the disease vary all over the world, it has improved to a great degree in the recent years. This is because breast cancer is diagnosed at an earlier stage in countries where there is easy availability of medical care. Practices such as mammograms, clinical breast exams, magnetic resonance imaging, biopsy, ultrasound, and computerized tomography are some of the methods of early detection of breast cancer. So, thanks to improvements in breast cancer treatments as millions of women are surviving the disease today.
Recently, the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Ropar came up with a novel fast painless and non-invasive method called the Infrared Thermography (IRT) for early diagnosis of breast cancer. According to the researchers at the institute, IRT plays a vital role in early detection of the disease in women of all ages, including pregnant or nursing women, regardless of the breast type (either fatty or dense).
The proposed technique involves the employment of infrared emission emanating from the breast to detect hidden tumors with predefined thermal stimulus on the area under scrutiny.
“Infrared Thermography (IRT) is a fast, painless, non-contact, and non-invasive imaging method, complementary to mammography, ultrasound, and magnetic resonance imaging methods for early diagnosis of breast cancer,” said Ravibabu Mulaveesala, Associate Professor, Department of Electrical Engineering, who is associated with the research.
He said that the widely used mammography method has its limitations in detecting tumors, particularly in a dense breast. “Dense breasts have less fat and more gland tissue in comparison to the fatty breasts, which restricts mammography to detect tumors with confidence. Especially for the tumors situated in the gland region of the breast, due to the insignificant density variations between the gland and tumor regions, mammography fails to provide enough radiographic contrast between the tumor location and healthy region of the breast,” he added.
He also said that IRT performs better than mammography in diagnosing breast cancer and other diseases such as diabetes, thyroid, and skin cancer, and is also patient friendly. Unlike IRT, mammography provides discomfort to patients and exposes them to harmful ionizing radiation.
The novel technique of early breast cancer detection involves the application of an external thermal stimulus (heat/cold) over the breast under examination for creating temperature differences (2 to 3 degrees centigrade from the ambient breast temperature) over the normal and abnormal (tumor) regions over the breast. The application of heat stimulus generates thermal waves which diffuse into the breast and creates a similar temporal temperature distribution on the skin surface of the breast with a certain delay and amplitude. The presence of tumors inside the breast changes the heat flow, thereby resulting in temperature gradients over the surface. In addition, phase and amplitude images are constructed using frequency and time-domain data analysis schemes for detecting the sub-surface tumors with improved contrast.
The research titled “Applicability of active infrared thermography for the screening of human breast: a numerical study”, has also been published in the ‘Journal of Biomedical Optics’.