This amazing new device connects to an iPhone and can be used to do Point Of Care Ultrasound (POCUS). What does this mean in terms of breast cancer? We think it is possible for health care workers to use this type of portable device in areas that lack health care resources and do not have the ability to quickly determine which breast lumps need further evaluation and which are clearly benign.
As you may know, in 2014 we received a grant from the National Institutes of Health to demonstrate that it was possible for us to use a small portable ultrasound paired with an artificial intelligence-based platform to assess palpable breast lumps in women!
Most breast cancer in low-to middle-income countries occurs in premenopausal women and most women find their own breast lumps. However, most lumps in the breast are benign (not cancer). These cysts, fibroadenomas and lumpy breast tissue are caused by hormonal fluctuations. The challenges of distance, limited resources and limited available health care services mean that women in places like Jalisco, Mexico, where we are doing our study, can wait up to nine months to be seen at the public hospital. For many of the women, that hospital can be an eight-hour bus ride away.
We believe this is the type of setting where a handheld ultrasound device equipped with an artificial intelligence-based algorithm that can differentiate lumps that could be cancer from ones that are clearly benign could have a huge impact. Women with benign lumps could be reassured and would not need to travel to the public hospital. Women with suspicious lumps would be the only ones who go to the hospital, making the care that they get at the public hospital more timely.
At the outset, GE loaned us their portable Vscans. We showed that were able to easily and quickly teach health care workers in Mexico with no experience in radiology how to acquire adequate images, and we are continuing to collect images for this study.
The ultrasound technology has improved since we started. Newer machines hook the transducer to a cell phone, making them even more portable. After seeing a story in the New York Times about the Butterfly Ultrasound, I immediately thought of our study and I knew we needed to try it out! A generous donor immediately came up with the funds and I received the device a week ago. Needless to say, I have been trying it out on everyone and everything! If it is as good on breast lumps as I think it will be, we may well be able to take it to Mexico and try it out. Meanwhile, be assured I will keep you abreast!