Portable Scanner Can Detect Breast Cancer Instantly


Can you imagine no more mammograms or being able to test for breast cancer at home? A University of Manchester scientist has invented a portable scanner that allows individuals to instantly detect the presence of a breast cancer tumor.

Scanner could be used at home for monitoring breast health

The new portable scanner was invented by Professor Zhipeng Wu from the University of Manchester’s School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering. Using radio frequency technology, the scanner can show either malignant or benign breast tumors on a computer screen in real-time.

Although the technology has been available to detect breast cancer, until now it has taken several minutes for images to appear, and the procedure must be performed in a hospital or specialist care facility. The new scanner eliminates both of these barriers, which opens up access of the technique to many more women.


In a news release from the University of Manchester, Wu noted that the “real-time imaging minimizes the chance of missing a breast tumour during scanning,” and that the scan is even accurate if women are wearing a bra. He pointed out that the new scanner “will benefit millions of women in both developed and developing countries bearing in mind that one in nine women may develop breast cancer in their lifetime.” The National Cancer Institute estimates that 207,090 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in the United States in 2010, and an additional 1,970 cases in men. Deaths are projected to be 39,840 in women and 390 in men.

The portable scanner is about the size of a lunch box and could even be used at home by women to monitor their breast health. Unlike mammography, which presses a woman’s breast, the scanner works when a woman places her breast in a cup. While mammography detects density, radio frequency works on dielectric contrasts between diseased and normal breast tissue.

As soon as the breast is placed in the cup, any abnormality, including a tumor, shows up in red on the computer screen. That’s because the sensor can detect the difference in tissue contrasts, with malignant tissues having a higher permittivity and conductivity than normal tissue.

Introduction of the new portable scanner for breast cancer detection could be a tremendous breakthrough for women, allowing them more accurate, faster, and easier access to screening. Professor Wu submitted his invention to the IET Innovation Awards, and winners will be announced in November.

National Cancer Institute
University of Manchester