This IITian professor has a new way of detecting breast cancer!
According to a report of World Health Organisation (WHO) breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in women all over the world.
It is estimated that worldwide over 50,80,00 women died in 2011 due to breast cancer (Global Health Estimates, WHO 2013).
TACKLING BREAST CANCER
The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Ropar proposed a technique called Infrared Thermography (IRT) that makes use of infrared emission emanating from the breasts in women to detect a tumour.
The technique can be used for detection of breast cancer in women of all ages, including pregnant or nursing women, irrespective of breast type (either fatty or dense breast).
IRT detects the hidden tumours at a very early stage which can prevent the development of breast cancer among women.
While speaking with Chitra Pandey of India Today Education, Ravibabu Mulaveesala, Group leader of InfraRed Imaging Research, from the Department of Electrical Engineering of IIT-Ropar, talked about a promising research in the field of the detection of breast cancer.
1. Take us through your latest research about the Infrared Thermography (IRT) technique that will detect breast cancer at an early stage.
Ravibabu Mulaveesala: Measuring or mapping the temperature distribution or thermal profile over the area of a body is what we call Infrared Thermography. We have used an alternative term “Infrared Thermography” instead of “Infrared Imagery.”
There are infrared radiation rays which are emitted by objects at some temperature through which we can get the information about the temperature distribution of the surface.
The tumour’s location on the breast will have a higher temperature compared to the surrounding normal tissue. This temperature difference will help identify a tumour. However, more developments are still to be made for implementing the technique by Active Infrared Thermography to detect the hidden tumours with improved contrast.
2. How would Infrared Thermography (IRT) work differently from mammogram, ultrasound, MRI and biopsy that are currently the most used methods for breast cancer detection?
RM: Mammography exposes the patients to extra radiation in order to figure out a tumour that itself increase the chances of cancer growth. Unlike mammography, the infrared method of screening is so safe, fast, non-contact that even after using frequently for screening will not have any harsh effects on the patient.
Ultrasound is a time-consuming process. Also, it doesn’t easily reveal a tumour as compared to infrared. Full field active infrared thermography depends on the type of breast under examination (fatty or dense). As far as the applicability, fastness, detectability is concerned there is no doubt active infrared thermography is a right choice in comparison to ultrasound.
Of course, the sensitivity and resolution of the test depend on the chosen infrared imaging system and the used external thermal stimulus. MRI and mammography are very uncomfortable to the patient which is not the case with active IRT.
3. How affordable, accessible and feasible will the Infrared Thermography (IRT) be for breast cancer patients in India?
RM: If detected early, breast cancers are easy to cure. And, an early detection is possible through IRT. It is undoubtedly a method that will cost less when compared to ultrasound, mammography, and MRI.
The less cost makes it more affordable to the general public.
Equipment is that we are developing at InfraRed Imaging Laboratory at IIT Ropar, through which we can go to the remote location, check and transmit the thermogram through the internet. This data will help an expert to interpret the thermogram into the diagnosis.
4. Do the research works being conducted at the other IITs on the treatment and detection of breast cancer become a supplement to your efforts in this research?
RM: IRT is a very different, incomparable method and unique in its nature. It is very different to the research work at the other IITs and is completely independent.
5. There are several projects in which astrophysicists and ecologists are teaming up to monitor the endangered species with the help of Infrared thermal cameras. What other fields you think can the infrared technology be used for?
RM: Not only in the medical field and not only for breast cancer but infrared technology can be used in skin cancer and heart tissue cancer too.
IRT is also best for non-destructive testing and evaluation and structural health monitoring areas, especially useful for Indian defence and atomic research.
IRT is also best for testing the right equipment for a particular aircraft. It can help in choosing the best aircraft components.
Infrared is the future of technology in the field of medical and science. These technologies are gaining momentum in the field of medical, science and engineering applications, there are still several challenges that it might face.
While the research and the technique are gaining momentum in the field of science, there are still several challenges that it might face.
Deepak S. Chauhan, a specialist in the synthesis of biodegradable NIR light responsive plasmonic nanomaterials for the non-invasive, and radiation-free treatment of cancer from the Department of Biosciences and Bioengineering, IIT Bombay said:
The IRT technique is very useful during pregnancy for avoiding the exposure to harmful radiations used in mammography.
Challenges facing Infrared Thermography (IRT)
While talking about the challenges for IRT, Deepak S. Chauhan said, “Although this technology seems promising for early detection of cancer, the individual variability could add complexity to the data interpretation. It also has difficulty in providing the aetiologies and local anatomy of a tumour.”
“The other challenge is a clear interpretation of physiological information to anatomical details of a tumour. Also, the resolution obtained in infrared thermography is not comparative to mammography.”
“It is due to these reasons that mammography is still considered for the reliable proof for cancer. Hence, it will be best to combine IRT with other imaging modalities like CT, ultrasound for further enhancement rather than their replacement.”