Washington: Scientists have come with a new 'electronic skin' that can help detect early signs of breast cancer by "feeling" and showing small lumps that fingers can miss.
Ravi F. Saraf and Chieu Van Nguyen pointed out that early diagnosis of breast cancer, the most common type of cancer among women, could help save lives. Clinical breast exams performed by medical professionals as an initial screening step are inexpensive, but typically don't find lumps until they're 21 millimeters in length, which is about four-fifths of an inch.
Detecting lumps and determining their shape when they're less than half that size could improve a patient's survival rate by more than 94 percent. Though some devices already mimic a manual exam, their image quality is poor, and they cannot determine a lump's shape, which helps doctors figure out whether a tumor is cancerous.
The scientists made a kind of electronic skin out of nanoparticles and polymers that can detect, "feel" and image small objects. To test how it might work on a human patient, they embedded lump-like objects in a piece of silicone mimicking a breast and pressed the device against this model with the same pressure a clinician would use in a manual exam. They were able to image the lump stand-ins, which were as little as 5 mm and as deep as 20 mm.
Saraf said that the device could also be used to screen patients for early signs of melanoma and other cancers.
The study is published in the journal ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces.