Microwave breast screening getting closer

15 March 2017

Yifan Chen
Professor Yifan Chen is leading a study that could transform breast screening programmes.

A new non-invasive method of breast screening is currently being trialled in China, thanks to the work of Professor Yifan Chen from the School of Engineering at the University of Waikato and ET Medical, a leading medical instrument company headquartered in Shenzhen, China.

Professor Chen led the team that developed the new imaging system which conveys low power of microwaves for women’s breast screening and they began a large-scale clinical trial in December last year, the first of its kind in the Asia-Pacific region.

“BreastScreen Aotearoa, New Zealand’s free national breast screening programme, currently only offers mammograms to eligible women aged between 45 and 69,” says Professor Chen. “This new system aims to scan women in all age groups and all high-risk groups at affordable costs with imaging performance comparable to that of X-ray mammogram, and so it has the potential to transform the existing breast screening programmes worldwide.”

Professor Chen says compared to the existing X-ray mammogram, ultrasonography and MRI, microwave breast imaging could be a more attractive screening tool because both ionizing radiation and breast compression are avoided, leading to safer and more comfortable exams.

“It also has the potential to be both sensitive and specific even for dense breasts, to detect small tumours, and to be much cheaper than other methods such as MRI,” Professor Chen says.

The imaging device incorporates sophisticated radar sensors with operating frequency and transmission power comparable to those of a mobile phone. A scan can be completed within four minutes.

In the first stage of the trial, the system has been deployed to examine 11 healthy women with six of them having mammary hyperplasia. These preliminary tests confirm the system’s effectiveness and suggest that responses from mammary hyperplasia can be identified successfully. It is expected that hundreds of patients will be tested in the next few months, Professor Chen says.

He hopes commercialisation of microwave breast screen technology will occur within the next one-to-two years. “This clinical trial will also be the first large-scale trial focussing on Asian women, who usually have denser breasts than European women which makes it harder to detect tumours using X-ray or ultrasound.”

Professor Chen is also keen to apply the technology in New Zealand’s national breast screening programme, “Recent Ministry of Health reports show that Māori women are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer, less likely to be diagnosed early, more likely to die from breast cancer than non-Māori, and tend to get breast cancer at a younger age,” he says.  “Pasifika women also have higher rates of breast cancer than Pākehā or European women. These situations may be changed with the deployment of the microwave breast screening technology given its superior performance.”

Professor Chen will present the findings of the clinical trial in the Final Working Group and Management Committee Meeting of the EU Framework Programme Horizon 2020 COST Action TD1301 "MiMed" in Malta in June. He is a working group leader and management committee member of this Cost Action, which comprises more than 200 academic and industry members from 27 countries focusing on accelerating the technological, clinical and commercialisation progress in the area of medical microwave imaging.

Related stories

Dr Adam Hartland

Waikato climate researchers develop device sold to universities around the world

Waikato researchers unlocking keys to climate change hidden in the drip water from inside New…

Satellite image of Lake Rotoehu

European Space Agency satellites used to diagnose health of Bay of Plenty lakes

Satellite images from the European Space Agency are being used to diagnose the health of…

Kim Pickering

Researchers make building materials from waste saving money and the environment

As housing construction costs skyrocket and building materials are in short supply, University of Waikato…

te tohu paetahi programme

Pioneering Te Tohu Paetahi Māori language programme celebrates 30 years for Te Wiki o te Reo Māori

The University of Waikato’s pioneering total immersion Māori language programme, Te Tohu Paetahi, is celebrating…

NMR Rototuna

New $1.5 million spectrometer boosts research capacity

A recent arrival at the University of Waikato will play a vital research role in…


Industry CEO proud to support opportunities for female STEM students

A new scholarship has been established to support female students studying STEM (science, technology, engineering,…

Professor Bruce Clarkson

Waikato researchers receive massive boost for environmental projects

Researchers from the University of Waikato will now be able to advance projects to model…

Campaign image 2

World’s first Bachelor of Climate Change launched at University of Waikato

The world’s first Bachelor of Climate Change degree has been launched by the University of…


Fish detector dogs helping to sniff out pest fish in Waikato and Bay of Plenty lakes

There’s some fishy business going on in the Schools of Science and Psychology at the…


Pacific alumnus at home with engineering

Fogamoni Nicc Moeono finished his high school years in Samoa with a “blurred image” of…

Hannah Robinson and Ashlee Cooper, two of the six Sparling Travel Award recipients

Six University of Waikato Environmental Science students receive Sparling Travel Award

Six masters and doctoral students have been given the opportunity to travel throughout New Zealand…

Isaac McIvor 2

3MT event puts PhD research centre-stage at Waikato

A speech on the development of ancestral Waikato pā using both a mātauranga Māori and…