February 1, 2006 A new digital microscopy system allows doctors to examine biopsy tissue and diagnose breast cancer within hours instead of weeks. The same instrument can be used for all kinds of cancers, and it allows doctors to share the digital images with colleagues anywhere across globe for a second opinion.
Every three minutes a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer but getting the diagnosis can be a long, drawn-out process. Now, a new test shortens the wait time for breast cancer diagnosis from weeks to hours.
"They saw a swollen lymph node under my arm," says cancer survivor, Audrey Dickinson. "The hardest time is when you get the call from the doctor saying there's something suspicious"
Cancer survivor, Donna Lindsay says, "He said, 'Ms. Lindsay, don't want you to panic, but we've found some shadows on your mammogram.'" Donna was just one of the women who got the call saying she may have cancer. She needed an invasive biopsy to find out for sure.
Ronald S. Weinstein, a pathologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson, says, "I am acutely aware of how stressed out women become when they're waiting for the results of a biopsy." Dr. Weinstein and Dr. Ana Maria Lopez are working together to cut down the wait time for breast cancer diagnosis.
The ultra-rapid virtual scanner gives pathologists a quicker way to break down a biopsy. No pathologist or special lab is needed for the test, just the machine. On top of the microscopes, a 24-megapixel camera captures multiple images. Then the photos are digitally transmitted immediately over the Internet.
"If a patient comes in here at 11 o'clock in the morning, by 3 o'clock in the afternoon, they'll have gotten a diagnosis," Dr. Weinstein says.
Dr. Weinstein says the new cancer scanner can be used for any type of cancer and the results can be seen worldwide in an instant over the Internet.
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.
The American Association of Physicists in Medicine and the Optical Society of America contributed to the information contained in the video portion of this report.
Editor's Note: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.