Ultrasonic “Soft Touch” for Breast Cancer Diagnosis


Mahdi Bayat – bayat.mahdi@mayo.edu

Alireza Nabavizadeh- nabavizadehrafsanjani.alireza@mayo.edu

Viksit Kumar- kumar.viksit@mayo.edu

Adriana Gregory- gregory.adriana@mayo.edu

Azra Aliza- alizad.azra@mayo.edu

Mostafa Fatemi- Fatemi.mostafa@mayo.edu


Mayo Clinic College of Medicine
200 First St SW
Rochester, MN 55905


Michael Insana- mfi@illinois.edu

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Department of Bioengineering
1270 DCL, MC-278
1304 Springfield Avenue
Urbana, IL 61801


Popular version of paper 2aBAa7, “Differentiation of breast lesions based on viscoelasticity response at sub-Hertz frequencies”

Presented Tuesday Morning, May 24, 2016, 9:30 AM, Snowbird/Brighton room

171st ASA Meeting, Salt Lake City



Breast cancer remains the first cause of death among American women under the age of 60. Although modern imaging technologies, such as enhanced mammography (tomosynthesis), MRI and ultrasound, can visualize a suspicious mass in breast, it often remains unclear whether the detected mass is cancerous or non-cancerous until a biopsy is performed.

Despite high sensitivity for detecting lesions, no imaging modality alone has yet been able to determine the type of all abnormalities with high confidence. For this reason most patients with suspicious masses, even those with very small likelihood of a cancer, opt in to undergo a costly and painful biopsy.

It is long believed that cancerous tumors grow in the form of stiff masses that, if found to be superficial enough, can be identified by palpation. The feeling of hardness under palpation is directly related to the tissue’s tendency to deform upon compression.  Elastography, which has emerged as a branch of ultrasound, aims at capturing tissue stiffness by relating the amount of tissue deformation under a compression to its stiffness. While this technique has shown promising results in identifying some types of breast lesions, the diversity of breast cancer types leaves doubt whether stiffness alone is the best discriminator for diagnostic purposes.

Studies have shown that tissues subjected to a sudden external force do not deform instantly, rather they deform gradually over a period of time. Tissue deformation rate reveals another important aspect of its mechanical property known as viscoelasticity. This is the main material feature that, for example, makes a piece of memory foam to feel differently from a block of rubber under the touch. Similar material feature can be used to explore mechanical properties of different types of tissue. In breast masses, studies have shown that biological pathways leading to different breast masses are quite different. While in benign lesions an increase in a protein-based component can potentially increase its viscosity, hence a slower deformation rate compared to normal tissue, the opposite trend occurs in malignant tumors.

In this study, we report on using an ultrasound technique that enables capturing the deformation rate in breast tissue. We studied 43 breast masses in 42 patients and observed that a factor based on the deformation rate was significantly different in benign and malignant lesions (Fig. 1).

The results of this study promise a new imaging biomarker for diagnosis of the breast masses. If such technique proves to be of high accuracy in a large pool of patients, then this technology can be integrated into breast examination procedures to improve the accuracy of diagnosis, reduce unnecessary biopsies, and help detecting cancerous tumors early on


Figure 1 Error bar chart for benign and malignant

Figure1- Distribution of relative deformation rates for malignant and benign breast lesions. A significantly different relative deformation rates can be observed in the two groups, thus allowing differentiation of such lesions.


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