Breast Cancer Awareness and Terahertz
October offers a cornucopia of seasonal colours: the fiery shades of leaves changing, the soft orange of pumpkin patches and of course, the lively pink of a small ribbon.
This pink stands out from the yellows, oranges and reds associated with fall and instead, acts as a symbol of hope in the fight against breast cancer.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, fostering awareness around the importance of early detection and the startling statistics of this disease. The most common cancer among women, breast cancer is the second leading cause of death of women worldwide. Through advancements in early detection, screening and treatment however, the fatal outcome of breast cancer has decreased over the last 30 years.
Today, the majority of breast cancer tumors can be detected, including those that are less than 2cm in diameter (which is slightly smaller than the average green pea). This is due in part to the undeniable role of technology and the ongoing commitment to innovation.
Current research shows that terahertz imaging demonstrates potential in streamlining the process of Breast Conserving Surgery (or a lumpectomy), which is a preferred surgical option for tumor removal as it reduces the risk of disfigurement of the breast post-surgery.
When a lumpectomy is performed, the localized tumor is removed along with a small margin of tissue from the surrounding area. This tissue is then analyzed at a later date to determine whether or not it is “healthy”; if it is found that the cancer cells have spread, a second surgery is required.
This second surgery increases the odds of infection, disfigurement, cost and above all, pain and stress for the patient. As a result, researchers and surgeons alike are continuously looking for ways to analyze the margin tissue during the first surgery.
This is where terahertz would come in.
Terahertz technology – specifically terahertz imaging – could eliminate the need for this second surgery by identifying non-healthy tissue within the first operation. This is currently an experimental method but results show that not only would terahertz be safe to use within the confines of an operating room, but also could quickly pick up on the contrasting properties that exist between healthy and non-healthy tissue. This would enable the surgeon to identify just how much margin tissue needs to be removed the first time.
Breast Cancer Awareness month is about just that, awareness. Although terahertz may provide a solution to one part of the larger fight against breast cancer, there is still a long way to go. With approximately 1 in 8 women being diagnosed with breast cancer, awareness, innovation and support are all important. Encourage both yourself and the women in your life to be prepared with a plan of self-awareness and regular screenings to give the best fighting chance against a disease that affects too many.
Hassan, A., Hufnagle, D., El-Shenawee, M., & Pacey, G. (n.d.). Terahertz imaging for margin assessment of breast cancer tumors. 2012 IEEE/MTT-S International Microwave Symposium Digest.