European scientists have created a novel mammography imaging system that could potentially “spell an end” to unnecessary biopsies, by determining benign or malignant breast lesions.

Scientists from the Horizon2020 project SOLUS say they have developed a non-invasive, multi-modal, imaging system that uses ultrasound and light technologies to easily differentiate between benign or malignant lesions, without having to perform a biopsy.

The team says that similar to a pregnancy ultrasound appointment, a clinician scans the breast with a handheld “smart optode” pen probe that combines light and sound to collate blood parameters and tissue constituents.

Using “diffuse optical imaging”, the scientists can monitor changes in concentrations of oxygenated and deoxygenated haemoglobin, collagen, lipids and water present in a suspected tumour against a pre-programmed set of results.

The SOLUS scanner reads a number of different parameters to create a thorough characterisation of tissue, gathering the total blood volume and oxygenation, collagen, water and lipid content, together with stiffness and morphologic information, to produce an accurate diagnosis.

Aiming for 95% sensitivity and 90% specificity, the scientists say the project has combined commercial ultrasound imaging and elastography with novel diffuse optical imaging approaches.

“Astonishingly, millions of unnecessary biopsies are currently carried out across the world at a cost of millions of euros in Europe, and potentially billions worldwide,” explained researcher and professor Paola Taroni from Politecnico di Milano, Italy.

She continued, “Having undergone extensive laboratory trials, the SOLUS team plan to validate the system in real clinical settings at the end of this year and through into 2021.”

While mammography is accurate in detecting breast lesions, many women encounter false positive results – a positive detection of a lump but with no malignant cancer present.