Breast Cancer Detection

Over the last few months there has been much excitement about the recent work published in Nature March 4 by Veronica James and collaborators ["Using hair to screen for breast cancer", James V, Kearsley J, Irving T, Amemiya Y, Cookson D, Nature Mar 4, 1999;398(6722):33-4], among them Tom Irving of BioCAT, and David Cookson of ChemMat-CARS, having to do with the possibility of detecting breast cancer by changes in structure of fiber diffraction patterns of patients' hair. The changes show up in blinded studies as characteristic ring features in the x-ray fiber diffraction patterns, or in those with BRCA gene, as much weaker but statistically significant features in the images.

Experiments were carried out on Prof. Amemiya's beamline at the Photon Factory and, more recently, the BioCAT insertion device beamline. No, it's NOT an artifact of chemotherapy or hair dyes, although similar features can be obtained under those circumstances, and if the hair fibers are not carefully aligned and tensioned. The effect is clearly seen when those samples are excluded.

Careful attention to several experimental details unique to hair (which, contrary to general belief, is a non-trivial system) is essential to eliminate confounding artifacts that have plagued investigators attempting to replicate the experiments. More info here. Experimenters wishing to replicate the experiments would be well advised to discuss experimental details with Prof. James and to carefully study her earlier papers.

Studies are continuing on larger number of samples and different types of breast cancers, as well as other pathologies.

For more information, see the Argonne Press Release