Centenary of the UCT Faculty of Health Sciences

Diagnosing breast cancer: an opportunity for innovative engineering

Christopher L Vaughan, Michael D Evans


Background. In an ancient papyrus, dating back to 2500 BC, an Egyptian named Imhotep, thought to be the first physician and engineer in history, offers a glimpse into the earliest recorded case of breast cancer. Treatment has evolved over the years, from radical mastectomy to radiation by X-rays, and from adjuvant chemotherapy to hormonal therapy. A key challenge in fighting the ‘war’ on breast cancer is early diagnosis and here innovative engineers play a vital role.
Aims. While full-field digital mammography has emerged in the past decade, this technique suffers from relatively high dose levels and poor sensitivity when the breasts are dense. We aimed to develop a diagnostic imaging system that exposes the patient to lower ionising radiation and improves the sensitivity and specificity for women with dense breasts.
Results. Our PantoScanner platform has been designed to implement slot scanning digital X-rays, thereby lowering the dose and increasing signal-to-noise ratio, while also accommodating automated ultrasound and digital tomosynthesis. Early results based on mammographic phantoms are encouraging while the PantoScanner is undergoing clinical testing prior to commercial release.
Conclusion. Since breast cancer kills 500 000 people globally every year, early diagnosis by breast screening could save the lives of many women. Our fervent hope is that the PantoScanner system will significantly contribute to this effort in South Africa and around the world.

Authors' affiliations

Christopher L Vaughan, Department of Human Biology, MRC/UCT Medical Imaging Research Unit, University of Cape Town, and CapeRay Medical, Westlake, Cape Town

Michael D Evans, CapeRay Medical, Westlake, Cape Town

Full Text



Breast Cancer; Diagnosis; X-rays; Ultrasound; Tomosynthesis

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2012;102(6):562-564.

Article History

Date submitted: 2012-01-12
Date published: 2012-05-23

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