Why haven’t I heard of Breastlight before?

In 1929 an American Surgeon, Max Cutler, was the first to show that breast cancer could be demonstrated by transmission of light through the tissues.

A subsequent study by Dr David J Watmough showed that the optical images of a cancer of the breast arose principally because of the associated angiogenesis (new blood vessels stimulated to develop by the cancer). The chaotic mass of vessels surrounding the tumour supply oxygen and nutrients to the cancer and permit accelerated tumour growth.

Red Blood Cells strongly absorb light at about 550nm (the absorption bands of oxyhaemoglobin). The degree of light absorption is determined by the number of blood cells per unit volume of breast tissue. Cysts appear translucent whereas blood filled cysts, haematomas and neoplastic tumours appear opaque.

Initial studies on the breast illumination method using earlier versions of the product were carried out in the 1990s. Clinical results for the technique were very encouraging in terms of distinguishing carcinomas from benign breast lesions. However the sensitivity was lower than that achieved with mammography and therefore the technique was not recommended as an alternative to established clinical screening methods.

Recent advances in LED Technology have enabled PWB Health to develop the Breastlight, an affordable, compact device for use by women in the home.

Breastlight screening device is designed to be a valuable aid to a women’s personal breast awarenessIn particular it can be of great assistance to women for whom palpation is not an effective way to identify wary masses for example those with fibrous breast tissue.

The Breastlight Cancer Awareness campaign provided a chance to think on unique grounds. This innovative screening device has been tested with over 1,200 women.

The response from those tested was unprecedented. These women impulsively found Breastlight not only very easy in its usage but also very comfortable as part of their regular breast awareness routine. Every single woman had a very positive opinion about the product with a candid view after using the device and many women who have used the product have since written to us with their comments.

Published trials on Breastlight (Edinburgh & Aberdeen), using an earlier device, demonstrate that light-based technology can deliver high sensitivity levels (82%) in lesions over 1.5cm and useful levels (29%) in non palpable lesions.

Summary Of Consolidated Results:

Malignant tumours Detected by device Confirmed by biopsy Detection rate %
Total 139 169 82%
> 2cm 95 106 90%
< 2 cm 23 31 74%
Non palpable 4 14 29%
Not measured 17 18 94%


Earlier studies have shown that breast cancer can be demonstrated by transmission of light through the tissues (1,2). Optical images of cancer arise principally because of the associated angiogenesis.

Initial studies on the breast illumination method using earlier versions of the Breastlight device were carried out in the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and the University of Aberdeen.


The Edinburgh study (3) included a total of 129 patients with palpable lesions. Of these:

  • 74 patients had confirmed tumours
  • 55 patients had cysts or other benign disease

Detection rates with the device were:

Diagnosis No diagnosed Detected by device %
Confirmed tumours 74 70 94.6%
Benign disease 55 50 90.9%

False positive declarations were made on patients with blood filled cysts and abscesses.

In 56 of the patients the size of the lesions was estimated by the use of callipers. Detection rates with the device were:

Lesion size No of patients Detected by device %
>2cm 38 38 100%
< 2 cm 15 18 83.3%

The Aberdeen (4) study involved 178 patients. Of these:

  • 69 had normal mammograms
  • 109 had abnormalities detected by mammography

Of the latter, 95 had confirmed breast cancer:

  • The device detected 69 of the tumours (72%)
  • Of those not detected, 8 were ductal carcinomas in situ; average size of cancers missed was 1.1cm

Detection rates by size of tumour amongst the 95 patients were:

Tumour size No of patients Detected by device %
>2cm 68 57 83.8%
<2cm 13 8 61.5%
Non palpable 14 4 28.6%

Of the 83 patients where no cancer was present, device detection rates were compared with mammography:

Method Detected by device %
Optical device 68/83 81.9%
Mammogram 69/83 83.1%


  1. Cutler 1929
  2. Watmough 1982
  3. Bundred et al 1985 – download a copy of the Edinburgh trial (pdf:document)
  4. Brittendon et al 1995 – download a copy of the Aberdeen trial (pdf:document)

In July 2008 PWB Health commissioned an independent market research company to carry out a large scale study on Breastlight usage.

The objectives of the study were to assess how Breastlight was used, how it affected women’s attitude to breast awareness and breast screening and to give an indication of the frequency of referrals.

Breastlight Was well received and Understood

  • 78% of women said Breastlight was easy to use
  • Breastlight was clearly seen by women (over 99%) as  an addition to their current breast awareness & screening routines rather than a substitute

Breastlight encouraged more frequent breast awareness

  • After using Breastlight, regular checkers (once a month and more) increased from 44% to 76%
  • After using Breastlight, less frequent and non – checkers decreased from 34% to 8%

Breastlight improved women’s confidence in self checking

  • 80% were more confident after using Breastlight

 Breastlight was particularly valued by certain groups

  • Women 30 – 49 who are not having regular mammograms
  • Women with lumpy breasts
  • Women with large breasts

Of the 1087 women, 14 (1.3%) consulted a GP because they were concerned

Of these, three have had mammograms and one was subsequently diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. She has had an operation and is recovering well.

The outcome of the mammograms for the two other women is awaited.


Early Breast Cancer and Breast Abnormality Detection Device

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