A New Way to Detect Breast Cancer

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By Sophie Cousins | August 28, 2018 | The New York Times

For poorer people in India and many other countries, a computer engineer has found a way to detect breast cancer without radiation.

Not long before Mihir Shah was to be married in 2007, his soon-to-be mother-in-law got a diagnosis of breast cancer. She underwent chemotherapy and survived, wearing a wig to the wedding.

But while the women in Mr. Shah’s family — in both India and the United States — were able to get breast cancer screening, it made him think of the millions who weren’t as fortunate.

More than 90 percent of women in the developing world don’t have access to early detection of breast cancer. One reason is that mammograms, the gold-standard screening technique, are rarely used because of their high cost and a lack of trained radiologists. India has one radiologist for every 100,000 people; the United States has 12.

Then there are logistical challenges like a lack of electricity and poor roads. Many people are not aware of cancer, and the disease still carries a stigma.

As a result, patients turn up for treatment at advanced stages of the disease. Too often, a quick death is inevitable.

In the United States, 90 percent of women with breast cancer survive five years. In India 66 percent do; in Uganda only 46 percent do. Every year more than 70,000 Indian women die of breast cancer, more than anywhere else in the world.

Such poor survival statistics propelled Mr. Shah, a computer engineer, to ask: Is it possible to offer women breast cancer screening that doesn’t rely on mammograms?

He knew that whatever device he designed would have to be usable by community health care workers, the backbone of most developing countries’ health systems. It would also have to be portable and battery operated. And screening would have to affordable and painless.

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