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New breast cancer test could save lives

Press release issued: 1 February 2005

A team of researchers at the University of Bristol is developing a revolutionary new test to detect breast cancer at an early stage. If successful, this test will be effective for women of all ages.

A team of researchers at the University of Bristol is developing a revolutionary new test to detect breast cancer at an early stage.  If successful, this test will be effective for women of all ages; given that breast cancer is the largest killer of women between the ages of 35-55 in Europe, the test could have a dramatic effect on the number of deaths from this disease.    

The test, which utilises an innovative radar system, will enable women to be tested regularly without the fear of over-exposure to radiation, a problem with existing X-ray tests.  Currently, in order to detect cancer at an early stage – which is extremely important for successful treatment - many women are dependent on self-examination which can prove unreliable.  This latest technology has the ability to image through dense breast tissue, and therefore can reach a far wider section of women than X-ray mammography can.

Women below 50 in particular will benefit from this new test, which is much more reliable than X-rays at detecting cancer in this age group.  The test is also a much more comfortable procedure than X-rays since it does not involve compressing the breast between plates.  This could encourage many more women to be tested regularly for breast cancer, which, according to Cancer Research UK, is the most common cancer for women in this country.  

Alan Preece, Professor of Medical Physics at the University of Bristol and one of the lead scientists on this project, said: “Breast cancer is one of the biggest killers that women currently face.  Each year, there are over 41,000 new cases in the UK alone. We are very excited about this new technology and the benefits that might come from its use.”

This world-leading research project is funded by the United Bristol Healthcare Trust (UBHT), the University of Bristol’s enterprise initiative and the Sulis Seedcorn fund, which recently awarded over £100,000 of venture capital to the project.   Commercialisation of the project has been driven by SETsquared, the high-tech support programme for very early stage ventures.

SETsquared is part of the enterprise partnership between the universities of Bath, Bristol, Southampton and Surrey.   Based alongside the University’s incubation centre at University Gate East, the SETsquared centre in Bristol is actively supporting over 50 nascent entrepreneurs, offering services such as business development, mentoring and cost effective office space. 

You can hear the team talking about the project in the next series of BBC Radio 4’s Leading Edge, which is due to air around February or March this year.

Help make this breakthrough a reality!  If you are a woman and you can spare half-an-hour of your time to provide feedback on the comfort and fit of proposed equipment designs, please get in touch.  It is NOT necessary for you to have been tested for breast cancer or, indeed, for you to have had the disease. This study will take place in a secure and sensitive environment with a female chaperone present at all times.  Potential volunteers can receive full details without any obligation from Dr Ian Craddock – email ian.craddock@bristol.ac.uk