Breast cancer hits about one out of every ten women in the United States. Early detection is the key to surviving this frightening disease, but the methods for early detection are not without their drawbacks. Manuel examination for detection is the simplest, but it is not the best method to find cancer in its earliest stage. Mammography sometimes hurts, and it is not so good at finding cancer in dense breast tissue, although digital mammography can solve this problem. MRI and ultrasound do a better job, but are also more expensive.

Luckily a new type of screening method has been developed. A team of researchers at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln came up with a new way to look for breast cancer, described by the American Chemical Society as “a kind of electronic skin.”

The skin is made from nanoparticles and polymers that can “feel”, detect and reveal small objects. The way it would works is examiner/doctor places the “skin” on the patient’s breast and presses down with the same pressure as an ordinary breast examine. The device should be able to detect a lump as small as 5mm and as deep as 20mm. There is also speculation that this device can screen for early signs of other cancers, such as melanoma.

The device still needs approval from the FDA, and needs to solve some problems of mass production, but we are excited by the prospect of such a sensitive, inexpensive, and non-invasive method for early detection of breast cancer. As the ACS said:

“Clinical breast exams performed by medical professionals as an initial screening step are inexpensive, but typically don’t find lumps until they’re 21 millimeters in length, which is about four-fifths of an inch. Detecting lumps and determining their shape when they’re less than half that size improves a patient’s survival rate by more than 94 percent.”

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