New electronic current test scrutinized as mammo alternative

Researchers at the Medical College of Georgia (MCG) in Augusta are investigating whether a painless, portable device that uses electrical current rather than x-ray to look for breast cancer could be an alternative to traditional mammograms.

MCG is one of 20 centers internationally studying new technology developed by the Rockville, Md.-based Z-Tech, to compare traditional mammograms with impedence scanning, a technique based on evidence that electrical current passes through cancerous tissue differently than through normal tissue.

This phase of the study will focus on women age 40 to 50, since older women have less dense breast tissue, making cancer is easier to find, said James Craft, MD, MCG radiologist and principal investigator on the study. Mammograms, also performed in the study, are more accurate in this population, so this phase will be a tougher test of the new technology, he noted. The first phase of the study, which began in 2005, was open to women of all ages.

 “While we've known for a while that water flows more freely through cancerous cells, we also know that electrical current flows easier through cancerous and tumor tissue,” Craft said.

The Z-Tech scan works by placing a flower-shaped grouping of electrodes over each breast and sending a small, painless amount of electricity through them, the investigators said. Unlike traditional mammography, the scan does not involve breast compression or radiation.

A computer immediately calculates and presents a report based on the electrical signature of the breast tissue. Rather than waiting on breast image from a traditional mammogram, the computer immediately notes whether the scan is positive or negative for cancer, according to the researchers.

For the purpose of the study, Craft and the patient will not know the results. Patients must undergo a mammogram within 90 days, which Craft will interpret and Z-Tech will compare to the electrical study.
Craft said that the hope is that the new test, called HEDA (Homologous Electrical Difference Analysis), will provide an alternative to mammograms.

"This method doesn't use radiation, is portable and there is no pain associated with the squeezing that mammograms require," he added. "I can see it being used as an additional test. I don't think it will replace mammography, but it could increase our chances of catching breast cancer."

The second phase of the Z-Tech trial is open to women age 40-50 having routine mammograms, as well as those who have a suspicious lump scheduled for biopsy, according to Craft.