Beyond mammography

Handheld laser scanner developed at UC Irvine improves detection, diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer

December 01, 2012
UC Irvine researchers go beyond mammography

Researchers at UC Irvine Health Beckman Laser Institute and Medical Clinic received a $7-million grant from the National Cancer Institute to standardize use of a laser imaging device they had created for better detection and diagnosis of breast cancer in 2003. The investment is now paying off.

The researchers reported in the journal Radiology that this laser breast scanner can accurately distinguish between malignant and benign growths, possibly offering an easy, noninvasive way to tell whether breast tumors warrant aggressive treatment. The study involved 60 subjects and is being replicated with a larger test group.

Developed by Beckman Laser Institute director Bruce Tromberg and assistant researcher Albert Cerussi, the handheld laser breast scanner employs a sophisticated new analysis method devised by UC Irvine biomedical engineering professor Enrico Gratton and graduate student Shwayta Kukreti that produces a spectral “fingerprint” of each patient.

Unlike mammograms, the scanner provides detailed metabolic information by measuring hemoglobin, fat and water content, as well as tumor oxygen consumption and tissue density. In the study, researchers found that potentially dangerous malignant tumors and benign tumors have different metabolic fingerprints.

Younger women typically have dense breast tissue, and since breast cancer in that demographic is often more deadly, early detection is critical.

Separately, the UC Irvine laser breast scanner is proving beneficial in evaluating the effectiveness of chemotherapy by supplying detailed data on changes in breast tumor metabolism during treatments. This information, which is accessible quickly at bedside, lets oncologists tailor chemotherapy based on how a patient responds.

“The use of chemotherapy for tumor reduction prior to surgery is important with certain types of breast cancer,” says UC Irvine surgical oncologist Dr. John Butler. “The metabolic fingerprint the scanner provides indicates how the chemotherapy is working and allows doctors to adjust treatments as needed.”

Beckman Laser Institute researchers are collaborating with colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth College, UC SanFrancisco and Massachusetts General Hospital on a planned five-center clinical study of the device’s utility in chemotherapy. (In addition, the San Francisco Bay Area biotechnology company FirstScan has licensed it for commercial applications.)

“This is a valuable opportunity to standardize our approach and determine—in a national multicenter trial—how this new technology can best enhance treatment and quality of life for breast cancer patients,” says Tromberg.

— Tom Vasich, University Communications

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