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Experimental Evaluation of an Axillary Microwave Imaging System to Aid Breast Cancer Staging

Godinho, D. ; Felício, J. M. ; Fernandes, C. A. ; Conceição, R.

IEEE Journal of Electromagnetics, RF and Microwaves in Medicine and Biology Vol. 6, Nº 1, pp. 68 - 78, March, 2022.

ISSN (print): 2469-7249
ISSN (online):

Scimago Journal Ranking: 0,88 (in 2021)

Digital Object Identifier: 10.1109/JERM.2021.3097877

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The number of metastasised Axillary Lymph Nodes (ALNs) is a key indicator for breast cancer staging. Its correct assessment affects subsequent therapeutic decisions. Common ALN screening modalities lack high enough sensitivity and specificity. Level I ALNs produce detectable backscattering of microwaves, opening the way for Microwave Imaging (MWI) as a complementary screening modality. Radar-based MWI is a low-cost, non-invasive technique, widely studied for breast cancer and brain stroke detection. However, new specific challenges arise for ALN detection, which deter a simple extension of existing MWI methods. We present a complete study that proposes dedicated imaging algorithms to detect ALNs, and evaluate their effectiveness experimentally. We describe the developed setup based on a 3D-printed anthropomorphic phantom, and the antenna-positioning configuration. To the authors' knowledge, this is the first ALN-MWI study involving a fully functional anatomically compliant setup. A Vivaldi antenna, operating in a monostatic radar mode at 2-5 GHz, scans the axillary region. Pre-clinical assessment in different representative scenarios shows Signal-to-Clutter Ratio higher than 2.8 dB and Location Error lower than 15 mm, which is smaller than considered ALN dimensions. Our study shows promising level I ALN detection results despite the new challenges, confirming MWI potential to aid breast cancer staging.