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Breast cancer detection tests: Gaps and opportunities

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cancerBreast cancer is one of the largest cancer killers among women today. We lose about half a million women every year to this disease. The survival rate is particularly low in India and other developing countries due to lack of awareness and access to health facilities. Early detection is key for survival rate, improving treatment efficacy and reducing treatment costs.

There are also technology gaps in current methods used for early detection of breast cancer.  X-Ray Mammography, which is the standard screening modality, is less effective in women under 45 years of age and over 30 percent of women above 45 years with dense breasts. Women are also hesitant to undergo a mammography test for preventive screening when there are no symptoms, due to pain and discomfort of compression and apprehension towards radiation risks.

Another test that is normally used for breast screening in symptomatic younger women is breast ultrasound (or sono-mammography). Sono mammography is usually used as a follow-up test, after a mammogram shows a suspicious lesion. It is very hard, time-consuming and requires very skilled radiologists to detect small lesions in a whole breast ultrasound.  We need a non-radiation based early-stage breast screening test that can work on women of all age groups.

Also read: 75% Indian women shy away from breast cancer screening: Survey

NIRAMAI, a health tech start-up based out of Bangalore, has recently developed a novel solution for detecting breast cancer at an early stage. The solution called “Thermalytix®” is non-contact, non-invasive and radiation-free making it a very comfortable test for ladies. Thermalytix works for any female above 18 years of age and is clinically proven to be more accurate than mammography. This affordable and portable solution is creating a breakthrough in preventive screening for breast cancer. The test can be conducted either in diagnostic centres or at workplace or apartments. Furthermore, the test is completely privacy conscious where no one touches or even sees the woman during the test, addressing the socio-cultural issues of breast screening.

The core technology is called Thermalytix® which is a fusion of sophisticated artificial intelligence algorithms and advanced thermography.

Thermography is a way of sensing abnormalities in the human body using a thermal sensing device that measures the temperature differences on the skin. As per medical literature, an abnormal breast thermogram is the first sign of malignancy and so thermal imaging is the best way to sense early stage abnormalities. However, visual interpretation of a thermogram is very difficult and error-prone.

Thermalytix software analyses these complex thermal images to match and detect over 100 image patterns/features and uses the combination of these patterns to differentiate benign versus malignant images.

The software automatically generates a breast health report which has a risk score and a probability of malignancy for the lady. This generated report can be reviewed by a radiologist to decide the health condition of a lady.

The automated report can also be used as a triaging solution in rural outreach programs to identify people who need to be brought to the city for further follow-up tests. Women identified with any abnormality are flagged as requiring a follow-up breast ultrasound for final diagnosis.  In summary, NIRAMAI solution enables high quality healthcare at scale. It provides a quantitative image analysis tool for a radiologist to increase his/her productivity and accuracy of diagnosis. It also helps to bridge the gap in our healthcare delivery system by providing an AI tool that is accurate, affordable and accessible to all.

(The writer Dr Geetha Manjunath is CEO & CTO, NIRAMAI. Views expressed are personal opinion.)

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