Healthwatch 16: Early Breast Cancer Detection

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. -- A professor of electrical engineering at Wilkes University in Luzerne County watched a relative battle breast cancer and it gave him an idea. He researched how to better detect early-stage breast cancer than the methods currently available.

On the campus of Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Dr. Abas Sabouni is working to someday change the way breast cancer is diagnosed. Sabouni is an associate professor of electrical engineering.

"I started this work since 2005 when I was a Ph.D. student at the University of Manitoba," he said.

He showed us a model of what he and some Wilkes undergrads have been working on: a diagnostic tool better capable of distinguishing between benign and malignant tissue in a breast.

"In this imaging set up, you see here, it's microwave imaging. This is exactly the same frequency as your mobile phone conversations next to our brain, totally safe," Sabouni said.

Sabouni's hope is that one day, there will be no need for a biopsy. A medical professional would be able to tell the spot is cancerous or not just by looking at a picture.

This is already a second-generation model, but more work needs to be done. Sabouni admits the imaging is slow; it can take up to two weeks to compute. He says he's received a national grant to help him and his students try to decrease that time, something they'd have to perfect before taking the next step. But it's a good start.

"This is basically what we started here since 2013, which is much cheaper and gives you better resolution when it comes to finding cancer at an early stage."

Sabouni is also working on a totally separate project for patients who've had a breast tumor removed but are afraid of recurrence: a small sensor that would be implanted where the tumor was. The sensor can tell if foreign tissue is growing and actually send you a text message to give your doctor a call -- all things he plans to keep researching in Wilkes-Barre.

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