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Breast system could fight cancer

AN electronic system for automatic and accurate measurement of volumes of solid objects could become a weapon in the fight against breast cancer.

The Computerised Breast Management System is currently being used for studying human lactation processes, but the Univer-sity of WA Biochemistry department’s Professor Peter Hartmann said the non-invasive system could be utilised in the future for many applications including the detection of breast abnormalities.

Infra-red imaging may be incorporated into the system in the near future.

Professor Hartmann said there was a dearth of information on normal breast function with most research focussing on abnormality issues.

A winner at the 1999 IT&T Awards, research for the system has been undertaken by Professor Hartmann and the Department of Computer Science’s Robyn Owens and Rosslyn Sadleir.

The system makes it possible to measure changes in breast volume without interfering with the infant’s pattern of breastfeeding.

It can determine the volume of milk removed from the breast during a breastfeed and measure parameters relating to breast function including the short-term rate of milk synthesis (between breastfeeds), the storage capacity of the breasts, the degree of fullness, breast growth and breast involution.

“The rate of synthesis varies from one breastfeed to another, which is something we didn’t expect,” Professor Hartmann said.

“The aim of the system is to get methodologies in place to determine normal breast function, which provides important practical knowledge for assisting mothers.

It has demonstrated the importance of the short-term local control of milk synthesis in lactating women.

“Although the specific mechanism by which the short-term control of milk synthesis has yet to be understood, it is now apparent that the interaction between storage capacity, degree of fullness and frequency of milk removal plays a significant role.

“These factors demonstrate that the breastfeeding mother can take comfort in the individuality of her breast development and feeding pattern, which is uniquely adapted to suit the physiology of her breasts and the developmental requirement of her infant.”

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