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Shining a literal light on breast cancer detection

Optical probe study use light to track breast cancer tumours
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​A clinical trial taking place at BC Cancer – Abbotsford is hoping to shine a new light on breast cancer detection. Literally. The Breast Optical Probe Study uses a specially engineered probe to assess a breast tumour’s response to chemotherapy on patients with advanced breast cancer.

demonstrating use of the portable optical probe on a dummy with a silicone breast

The hand-held portable device uses two lights to shine through breast tissue. The light reflected back is measured and indicates if the tissue is a cancerous tumour. The probe, developed in B.C. by researchers at SFU and used on patients receiving care at BC Cancer – Abbotsford, provides results faster than more commonly used diagnostic methods.

“As part of the clinical trial, we have been evaluating the probe’s efficacy on patients with advanced breast cancer who are undergoing chemotherapy before having surgery,” says Parmveer Atwal, medical physicist at BC Cancer – Abbotsford. “We needed to start with confirmed cases so that we can ensure the device is able to accurately detect cancerous tissue. Then we began testing the device in patients undergoing chemotherapy to accurately determine if a tumour had shrunk or changed in response to their treatment.”  
So far 56 patients have been, or are in the process of being, assessed using the non-invasive optical probe. The goal is to recruit a total of 90 patients before moving to the next phase of the clinical trial – using the probe in a family physician’s offices.

“Ultimately, we’re hoping this device can be used in a primary care provider’s office potentially as a new means of detecting breast cancer,” says Atwal. In the future, the probe may also be used to detect cancer in other parts of the body. This would be a significant development in advancing early detection and diagnosis and may improve survival rates by catching cancer earlier.

The study was made possible through a generous donation to the BC Cancer Foundation and grant funding from the Michael Smith Health Research BC.
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