A first-of-its-kind no-touch, no-pain breast cancer screening tool

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Sunday, October 21, 2018
a first-of-its-kind no-touch, no-pain breast cancer screening tool
Image for representation purpose only

Thermalytix is a unique diagnostic tool, which combines thermal imaging technique and artificial intelligence, to detect breast cancer at an early stage. It is developed by Niramai, a health-technology start-up by Dr Geetha Manjunath, a noted scientist who has an extensive experience in data analytics, machine learning, and cloud computing.

Thermal imaging is based on the principle that metabolic activity and vascular circulation in the area surrounding a developing breast cancer is higher than in a normal breast tissue. It is because a cancerous tissue needs extra nutrients for its growth. Besides, the cancerous growth also increases the blood circulation around it. By measuring the regional surface temperatures of the breast, doctors can find out if there is any abnormal growth in the tissue.

But, thermal imaging has its limitations -- it may give false positive results in some cases. However, the new technique Thermalytix overcomes the problem. Now, the patient's data is analysed with the help of AI–based algorithms, which has greatly improved its accuracy. "Thermalytix takes 4 lakh temperature values and analyses it over 170 indicators. It is so accurate that it can differentiate between a benign and malignant growth with precision," says Dr Manjunath.

Dr Geetha Manjunath (Left) with Nidhi Mathur. 

"A clinical trial on 500 patients showed that its accuracy is equal to that of mammography, the most reliable method of breast cancer screening," says Nidhi Mathur, co-founder, Niramai.
In fact, its makers say that Thermolytix is better than mammography in many aspects -- firstly, it does not require any touch. A woman can undergo the screening in total privacy inside a Thermalytix booth. All she has to do is follow a set of simple instructions given to her and the images are captured and analysed by the machine.

Secondly, unlike mammography, it is a painless procedure. It does not require any kind of pressure to be put on the breasts. Thirdly, it does not involve any radiations and, so, it is safe for women of all age groups. Mammography as a screening tool is advisable only after 40 years of age.

"An easy and safe breast cancer screening tool can reduce the treatment cost by detecting cancer at an early stage. Early treatment also means better recovery and survival rate," says Dr Manjunath. Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among women today. According to WHO, one in every 12 women have the risk of a breast abnormality. Indian women with breast cancer have only about 50% chance of survival.

Artificial intelligence, says Dr Manjunath, has the potential to revolutionise healthcare delivery in a developing country like India, which is facing an acute shortage of doctors. "Health workers can be trained to use techniques like Thermalytix. The machine is self-operative and gives accurate readings. It can reduce the burden on doctors in rural as well as urban India. The best part of the AI-based tool is that its accuracy improves with every use," she says.    

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