Hybrid UWB Radar/Inverse Scattering for Breast Cancer Imaging

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Electrical and Electronic Engineering


Breast cancer is the commonest cause of death in women between the ages of 35 and 55 in Europe. Worldwide, a woman will die from the disease every 13 minutes. Breast cancer is very much a survivable disease however it is vital that the tumour is caught at an early stage. This requires a national screening programme for all women (in addition to regular self-examination by women of their breasts).

Unfortunately the existing screening techniques are not very ideal. X-ray for example, is only suitable for older women and is also quite uncomfortable. Even in these older (post-menopausal) women, it has quite high false-positive rates (resulting in women having unnecessary biopsies) and false-negative rates (in other words, it misses some tumours).

There is no suitable routine screening technique available for younger women.

The aim of this proposal is to continue research into a new imaging method based on UWB radar. This sends out a short burst of radio-waves into the breast and "listens" for reflections - these radio-waves are completely harmless and the imaging procedure is quick and comfortable.

At the moment this new imaging technique is in its infancy and much work remains to be done if we are to reach the ultimate goal of a cheap, quick and comfortable breast imaging method for all women.

Because the imaging method is harmless, it could be repeated as often as necessary and because it will be very cheap, it could be based in a GP surgery or even a van, rather than requiring a visit to hospital.

Planned Impact

With lifetime incidence rates for breast cancer of around 1 in 8 (and rising), breast cancer kills more women in the developed world than any other disease. A low-cost, comfortable, freely-repeatable breast screening technique that could be used as routinely as, for example, the current cervical smear, would very simply mark a revolution in healthcare. Not only would detection rates be improved but the opportunity to repeat the scan at 3 or 6 monthly intervals would mean that clinicians could adopt a wait-and-see approach to anomalies, sparing women the physical and emotional trauma of an invasive procedure.

It is intended that the beneficiaries of this research would be members of public, in the UK and overswas, who though the successful adoption of this technology could avoid many of the consequences associated with breast cancer. Clinicians too, stand to benefit, in terms of the increased productivity associated with the introduction of a new modality - especially in the younger age group, in which there are few reliable imaging methods available.

THe NHS has finite resources and the advantage of non-ionising, radio-wave imaging technology is that it would be extremely cheap in mass production. Furthermore, early intervention in cancer care (which would be enabled by this method) is always cheaper and more effective than intervention at a later stage. Taken together, there is a potential to cut NHS spend on cancer care (currently running at around £4.5 billion per annum) and thereby free up NHS resources and public funds for other important purposes.

In order for wider society to benefit however, exhaustive clinical trials, a process of product development, manufacturing, sales and support would need to be wrapped around the invention. Ultimately that will require the involvement of one of the medical technology companies that employ many thousands of people in the UK. There is therefore a great potential for job and wealth creation.

Finally, the staff working on the project will develop a particularly important transferable skill, that of solving Inverse Problems - these are in many ways the classic scientific experimental problem "I have an observation, what caused it?" and Inverse Problems occur in all branches of Physics, Chemistry, Biology as well as in Engineering disciplines and Geophysics.


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Byrne D (2017) Compound Radar Approach for Breast Imaging. in IEEE transactions on bio-medical engineering

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Sarafianou M (2016) Evaluation of Two Approaches for Breast Surface Measurement Applied to a Radar-Based Imaging System in IEEE Transactions on Antennas and Propagation

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Preece AW (2016) MARIA M4: clinical evaluation of a prototype ultrawideband radar scanner for breast cancer detection. in Journal of medical imaging (Bellingham, Wash.)

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Oliveira B (2016) Development of Clinically Informed 3-D Tumor Models for Microwave Imaging Applications in IEEE Antennas and Wireless Propagation Letters

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Byrne D (2015) Time-Domain Wideband Adaptive Beamforming for Radar Breast Imaging in IEEE Transactions on Antennas and Propagation

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Moll J (2014) Microwave radar imaging of heterogeneous breast tissue integrating a priori information. in International journal of biomedical imaging

Description The grant considered the application of both radar and inverse scattering methods to the imaging of breast cancer.

Significant achievements included considerable progress in radar based imaging (resulting in IEEE Transactions publications) and novel work to reduce the computational requirements of the inverse scattering method (currently being written up for publication).
Exploitation Route Microwave imaging (especially inverse scattering) is a relatively new modality and the findings of this project have been disseminated to may academic and industrial groups.

One such academic group is that of Prof Milica Popovic at McGill University (currently ranked #24 in the world QS rankings) who has acknowledged the influence of the Bristol work on her team's research.
Sectors Electronics,Healthcare

Description One of the radar signal processing approaches has been licensed under commercial terms to an industrial third party. The award was the subject of a successful bid for IAA funding that enabled an industrial placement to help transfer know how to an industry 3rd party. Following a considerable amount of research the 3rd party sold their medical imaging business to a multinational. We have no information on whether that company is continuing its research in this space.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Electronics,Healthcare
Impact Types Economic