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William J. Gradishar, MD, FACP, FASCO


Can a Robotic Device Perform Effective Breast Examination? UK Researchers Say Yes

By: Chris Schimpf, BS
Posted: Wednesday, October 18, 2023

A team of researchers at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory at the University of Bristol, United Kingdom, have created a robotic device that may be capable of performing clinical breast examinations and effectively detecting lumps using sensor technology. George P. Jenkinson, PhD, of the University’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, and colleagues, presented their initial results at the 2023 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) International Symposium on Robot and Human Interactive Communication (RO-MAN), which were also published as an open-access article by the University of Bristol. The researchers reported that their tests demonstrated the technologic feasibility of the concept, noting the device was able to apply forces similar to those applied by human examiners and to detect lumps at greater depths than previous devices.

“It’s generally agreed upon that if it is well performed, [a clinical breast examination] can be a very useful and low-risk diagnostic technique,” said Dr. Jenkinson in a University of Bristol press release. “We have shown that our robotic system has the dexterity necessary to carry out a clinical breast examination—we hope that in the future this could be a real help in diagnosing cancers early.”

To arrive at their findings the researchers performed thousands of palpations across a range of hypothetical scenarios, employing both digital simulations and subsequent laboratory experiments with a silicone breast. Future study using artificial intelligence will incorporate specific breast examination techniques and evaluate the device’s effectiveness at identifying cancer risks—with the goal of creating a system capable of detecting lumps deeper and more accurately than through human touch alone.

Disclosure: The study authors reported no conflicts of interest.

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