Researcher tests microwave radar plus tomo for breast cancer diagnosis

A Northeastern University researcher is investigating the use of microwave radar as a tool to better see and diagnose breast cancer.

The research is being performed by Carey Rappaport, professor of electrical and computer engineering. In an interview with New England Cable News, Rappaport pointed out that microwave radar is excellent at identifying objects that are different from their backgrounds--such as boats on the waters or planes in the air--and should be helpful in detecting something like a cancerous tumor, which looks different from healthy breast tissue.

Of course, microwave radar doesn't have to provide the same resolution as a X-rays, Rappaport said, so the idea is that it can be used in conjunction with X-ray mammography to provide better images.

According to an article in Boston Business Journal, Rappaport is working on an approach that combines microwave radar with digital breast tomosynthesis, with the hope that the two technologies will give physicians the resolution provided by tomosynthesis with the tissue identification allowed by microwave radar.

Rappaport told the Business Journal that engineers at Northeastern are working on a device that performs digital breast tomosynthesis at the same time it is taking microwave images.Once such a device goes through clinical trials and gets approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, it could have tremendous implications for diagnosing breast cancer.

Digital breast tomosynthesis is effective in reducing patient recalls and detecting cancers when compared to digital mammography, but is even more effective when used to screen women under the age of 50, according to a study published in October in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

"It has the potential to make a big splash," Rappaport said. "The [digital breast tomosynthesis process] is a huge leap relative to mammography, but this would be a comparable leap as well, getting this technology up and running."

To learn more:
- see the interview with New England Cable News
- see the article in Boston Business Journal