This new electronic skin can detect breast cancer

Scientists have developed an electronic skin that is better at detecting breast cancer in the early stages than either a doctor’s exam or mammogram.

While mammograms can discover cancer in younger women, they’re less likely to be effective than in women over 50, because younger women’s breast tissue is more dense. Ultrasounds are helpful but very expensive (meaning that doctors may be reluctant to suggest them). Some cases are caught by self-examination, confirmed by a doctor’s examination, but these lumps are not usually detected until they’re 21 millimetres long. If they can be found when they’re half that size, the probability of survival is over 94%.

So researchers Ravi F. Saraf and Chieu Van Nguyen used nanoparticles and polymers to build a special new electronic ‘skin’ that can sense lumps and provide an image of their size and shape. They placed this over a silicone breast model into which they had embedded lumps of difference sizes. They then pressed against the model as a doctor would do in an examination. As they detailed in a paper for the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, the ‘skin’ was able to find lumps as small as 5mm buried deep in the silicone.

The scientists hope that their invention could become a commonplace, non-invasive screening tool for breast cancer in the future, and say that it could also potentially be used to detect other types of cancer, including melanoma.

Image credit: American Chemical Society.

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Diane Shipley