New technology being developed in Thunder Bay, Ont. could be a gamechanger when it comes to breast cancer detection. 

Right now, mammograms are the standard method of testing, said Alla Reznik, a professor of physics and the Canada Research Chair in physics of molecular imaging at Lakehead University, but they're not the best tool for all patients. 

For example, she said, since mammograms identify tumours based on tissue density, it's not an efficient screening tool for women with denser breast tissue.

Less worrying, waiting for patients

But Reznik is working on a new imaging tool that specifically identifies cancer itself, so that women will no longer have to wait and worry over false positive or inconclusive results, or go for unnecessary biopsies.  

"And this is our major goal," she said, "because you can imagine the anxiety and stress for women ... if they are told that something suspicious is found in their breast, and they have to wait for a follow-up test."

The method being developed by Reznik uses radioactive glucose, made using the cyclotron at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Research Insitute where Reznik is also a senior scientist. 

Clinical trials in 2018

The patient is injected with the radioactive glucose, which will accumulate where cancer is located. The method can accurately identify even very small tumours, Reznik said.

She envisions the test being ideal for women at high-risk of developing breast cancer, or as a second test after mammograms reveal abnormalities. 

A prototype of the technology should be ready for clinical trials in 2018, said Reznik, and will hopefully be tested at both the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre and the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto. 

While the research is currently targeting breast cancer, Reznik said the imaging technology could also potentially be used to detect other types of cancer, and diseases such as Alzheimer's disease.