Jun Xia, PhD.

Jun Xia, PhD, is developing a portable photoacoustic breast imaging system. His work was published in IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering.

Breast Imaging System Could Help Detect Cancer Early

Published February 14, 2020

story based on news release by cory nealon

A new, portable breast imaging system under development has the potential to better identify breast cancer in women with dense breast tissue.


“We’re developing a new imaging system — it’s called a Dual Scan Mammoscope — that combines light and ultrasound technology. We believe it has the potential to help detect breast cancer earlier, thereby increasing survival rates,” says the study’s lead author, Jun Xia, PhD, assistant professor of biomedical engineering.

New System Combines Light and Ultrasound

The Dual Scan Mammoscope, or DSM, is similar to a mammogram, in that patients stand upright to have their breast compressed for imaging. Unlike mammograms, however, the DSM requires only mild compression of the breast, likely reducing the severity of pain that women can experience during the procedure.

Regular mammograms are the best tests doctors have to find breast cancer early, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, they are less effective for women with dense breast tissue.

There are alternative methods in such cases, including MRI. But MRI tests are costly, they require intravenous contrast agents that can cause allergic reactions, and they’re not easily portable.

Radiation Free; Contrast Agent Not Used

Unlike a mammogram, the DSM is a radiation free-test. It uses a laser to illuminate breast tissue. In turn, this generates acoustic waves that are measured by ultrasound technology. The combination of lasers and ultrasound is an imaging technique called photoacoustic tomography.

While MRI requires a contrast agent, the DSM test uses hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body. The technology Xia and his colleagues are developing features two simultaneous scans, one working from the bottom of the breast while the other works from the top.

The design, Xia says, ensures optimal light delivery and acoustic detection, enabling imaging deep into breast tissue. It’s also portable; it could easily fit into mobile mammogram units.

System Has Produced Deepest Imaging

In initial laboratory tests, the research team imaged breast sizes B, D and DD. The study highlights the D breast test, which shows imaging through 7 centimeters — the first time a photoacoustic system produced imaging that deep, the research team believes.

Xia says the DSM method shows promise in detecting tumors in the sub-millimeter range, provided they exhibit sufficiently developed blood vessels.

The team plans additional studies, including the imaging of more patients with different breast sizes and tumor characteristics, to ensure the DSM machine’s effectiveness.

3D vasculature of tissue.

The images above show 3D vasculature of breast tissue acquired by the Dual Scan Mammoscope. The vessels in blue are closest to the breast surface, while the ones in red are located deeper in the tissue. Credit: Jun Xia, PhD

Co-authors from SEAS, Jacobs School, More

First author on the paper is Nikhila Nyayapathi, a doctoral student in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).

Other SEAS researchers — including faculty members and students — are:

  • Rachel Lim
  • Huijuan Zhang
  • Wenhan Zheng
  • Yuehang Wang
  • Melinda Tiao
  • Kwang W. Oh, PhD, professor of electrical engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

Additional co-authors are X. Cynthia Fan, MD, PhD, from Windsong Radiology; Ermelinda T. Bonaccio, MD, clinical assistant professor of radiology; and Kazuaki Takabe, MD, PhD, professor of surgery.

Funding Provided by Komen and CTSI

The study, “Dual Scan Mammoscope (DSM) — A New Portable Photoacoustic Breast Imaging System with Scanning in Craniocaudal Plane,” published in the journal IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering in August, was led by University at Buffalo researchers in collaboration with Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center and Windsong Radiology.

The study was supported by grants from Susan G. Komen and UB’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute.