Israeli hand-held ultrasound device stands to revolutionise breast cancer diagnosis

June 25, 2018 by Andrew Friedman - TPS
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For more than a generation, the medical establishment has considered mammography to be the most accurate measure of breast health, and part of a $20 billion annual breast scanning industry in the United States alone.

Photo: Hillel Maeir/TPS

But the procedures are far from perfect, some doctors say. They point to the high number of incorrect results, as well as to the inability of current tests to differentiate between aggressive cancers that must be treated immediately and non-aggressive known as ductal carcinomas in situ (dci’s), tumors that pose no threat to the woman’s health and may remain dormant for decades.

“Twenty percent of all breast cancers are dcis, so even without taking the number of mammograms that return false positives, we’re already wasting $4 billion a year treating women for cancers they don’t have,” said Dr. Yehudit Abrams, the United States-born founder and CEO of MonitHer, a hand-held ultrasound device designed to monitor breast health and to detect cancerous growths as early as possible.

Dr Abrams added: “But about 30 percent of DCIS do advance to invasive carcinomas… the problem is that one mammogram every year does not tell the story of how long that mass has been there, or how long it will remain dormant, so the great majority of women opt for treatment that may not be necessary.”

Speaking to Tazpit Press Service (TPS) several days after winning the $360,000 first prize at the 2018 WeWork Creator Award,  Abrams said the device stands to revolutionise detection and treatment of breast cancer by providing women with a non-invasive “wand” that will scan the breasts once a month and record the history of their breast health. If the scanner detects a significant change in the breast tissue, it will alert the woman to consult a physician, who will then have access to a long-term medical history of the patient.

“The device that we are creating can be used in the home, so you’re not going to see the big equipment you see in a hospital. Ours is a hand-held device. it’s a whole-breast ultrasound, and an axillary ultrasound, which you normally don’t get with a clinical ultrasound exam.

“We are afraid to admit mammography has failed us, because it’s all we have to offer to screen for breast cancer.  But false positives mean that we wind up treating many cancers that don’t exist. Improved screening alone will save the medical industry $5 billion a year treating… Medicine is a dinosaur,” said Abrams, a former NASA engineer who dedicated her life to early detection of cancer when a cousin, a breast cancer survivor, was killed in a car accident in 2011.

“(My cousin) was so passionate about the early detection of cancer, and I wanted to honor her for that,” Abrams said. “That is what got me thinking about using some sort of portable ultrasound for early detection.”

Noa Choritz, a registered nurse, told TPS that current monitoring protocols are have limited effectiveness at best: After discovering she carried the BRCA gene at age 33 she had an elective preventative double mastectomy nine months later, but was diagnosed nevertheless with Stage 3 breast cancer in 2017.

“I had an MRI every year, and an ultrasound scan every year, alternating so I was being tested every six months, which is the standard practice for BRCA carriers. The scans were all fine, until they weren’t: Not only did I have cancer, but in just six months it had already spread to my lymph nodes.

“Not only that, but after my surgeon took a biopsy and confirmed that the tumor was malignant, she asked me to take a mammogram and an MRI exam, for testing and research purposes. Both tests came back negative, when in reality I had cancer on both sides,” said Choritz, now 38.

Choritz said it would be difficult to exaggerate the impact of effective methods of detecting breast cancer, both in terms of treatment and of preventing painful side effects, some of which are irreversible.

“Look, as we speak, I’m on my way out of the physiotherapist to deal with side effects of lymphedema. I had so many lymph nodes removed, so many burns from radiation, and it’s a lifelong condition. My left arm is now bigger than my right one, my hand tingles, and it’s going to be like that for the rest of my life.

“Even worse is the risk of heart attack which is common about 15 years after cancer patients undergo chemo. In fact, the number one reason that breast cancer survivors die is not from cancer, but from heart trouble brought on from chemo and radiation,” she said.

Abrams said she will use the prize money to develop the hardware to accompany the software that has already been approved by the US Federal Drug Administration, and plans to compete for a further $1 million prize in New York early next year.

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