New software developed by Rice University bioengineers could speed up the diagnosis of breast cancer with 90 percent accuracy and without the need for a specialist, according to research published this week in the open-access journal Breast Cancer Research.
Researchers said the software could improve breast cancer management, particularly in developing countries where pathologists are not routinely available.
"To evaluate fresh breast tissue at the point of care could change the current practice of pathology," said lead researcher Rebecca Richards-Kortum, Rice's Malcolm Gillis University Professor and professor of bioengineering and of electrical and computer engineering. "We have developed a faster means to classify benign and malignant human breast tissues using fresh samples and thereby removing the need for time-consuming tissue preparation."
Today, breast-cancer diagnosis is an intricate process. Tissue first must be obtained, typically by either a core needle biopsy or surgical excision. Next, pathologists must complete a complex process to prepare the tissue for analysis and histological assessment.
When examined under a microscope, cancerous and precancerous cells typically appear different from healthy cells. The study of cellular structures is known as histology, and a histological analysis is typically required for an accurate diagnosis of both the type and stage of a cancerous tumor.
The software developed in Richards-Kortum's lab allows for an automated histological assessment of breast cancer from tissue samples without the need for complex tissue-sample preparation or assessment by a pathologist. The software uses high-speed optical microscopy of intact breast tissue specimens.