Cape Town - For the first time, digital mammography and ultrasound technology have been combined in a single screening unit to cut the time for the accurate early diagnosis of breast cancer.
The home-grown piece of equipment was launched at Groote Schuur Hospital on Thursday and seeks to do away with the need for multiple screening tests, particularly in women with dense breast tissue.
The Aceso machine, which is undergoing a testing phase at the hospital, is the world-first imaging system to combine the two technologies.
The device allows for the instant detection of even the tiniest breast cancers.
One in eight women in South Africa develop breast cancer and 40 percent of them have dense breast tissue, making screening difficult.
Speaking at the launch of the machine at Groote Schuur Hospital, Minister of Economic Development Ebrahim Patel and the Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor concurred that the multimillion rand innovation was a huge boon to South Africa.
Patel said: “This machine will not only provide opportunities for better healthcare, but it will provide employment opportunities for the country. I’m excited about the potential this holds for economic development. This shows that innovation can address healthcare problems and is a demonstration that South Africa has smart ideas for the world,” .
The R30-million unit, developed by Cape Ray, a company that branched out from UCT in 2010, has been proven effective and safe in screening for breast cancer after it was tested on more than 50 healthy volunteers and 20 patients with confirmed breast cancer.
Screening will continue until next month.
Dr Kit Vaughan, chief executive of Cape Ray, said after the screening was complete, that the machine would be tested further before it was awarded the CE mark that would allow it to be marketed in Africa and Europe. It would also need to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration to be marketed in the US.
The development of the machine was funded by the Industrial Development Corporation.
The machine produces a low-dose X-ray and uses ultrasound simultaneously, allowing for the immediate detection and early treatment of breast cancer before it spreads.
“Usually when you do mammography it can take up to 30 minutes and when you have to do ultrasound that takes another 30 minutes. With this machine you can perform the mammographic and ultrasound functions at the same time.
“Not only do you save time, but you don’t have to have two machines so you save money too. The key about this technology is it can be widely used to reach a large number of people so it is ideal to use in a public healthcare setting,” Vaughan said.