TITLE:01-02-96 MISSILE TECHNOLOGIES MAY OFFER WEAPON AGAINST BREAST CANCER
(Russian delegation attends technology demonstration) (790)
By Jim Fuller
USIA Science Writer
Washington -- U.S. health officials have initiated a unique
partnership with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to adapt new
imaging technologies that detect and guide missiles to improving the
early detection of breast cancer.
Dr. Susan Blumenthal, director of the Office of Women's Health at the
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), says she has been
working with CIA scientists and experts in radiology the past 18
months to transfer these technologies from intelligence to medical
"I believe if we have the technology to see missiles 24,000 kilometers
away in the sky ... it seems we should be able to harness that
technology to find small lumps in a woman's breast," Blumenthal said
Blumenthal spoke at a demonstration of how such technologies can be
used for breast cancer diagnosis. A Russian delegation headed by
Health Minister Aleksandr Tsaregorodtsev attended the demonstration.
Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala said that the
technology initiative was one of several efforts between the two
countries to strengthen friendship now that the Cold War is over, and
that U.S. scientists would be working with their Russian counterparts
during the testing and implementation of the technology.
The announcement coincided with the semiannual meeting of Vice
President Al Gore and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin in
Blumenthal said the new application of intelligence imaging technology
in medicine couldn't happen too soon because breast cancer has reached
epidemic proportions around the world. In the United States alone,
there were approximately 182,000 new breast cancer diagnoses and
46,000 deaths in 1993.
Breast cancers in the United States rose 24 percent from 1973 to 1991.
Only two decades ago, 1 in 20 women developed breast cancer during her
lifetime. The rate is now 1 in 8.
Blumenthal said that while several years of testing is still needed,
the imaging technologies used for missile guidance and target
recognition have the potential to be much more reliable than the
40-year-old mammography methods used today.
Mammography, an X-ray-based imaging technique, is the best technology
available today for detecting breast tumors early when they are the
most treatable. It is estimated that conventional mammography can
reduce breast cancer deaths among women over age 50 by as much as 30
However, according to Blumenthal, mammography has a 10 to 15 percent
"false negative" rate, that is, not detecting a cancerous lesion when
one is present; and a 40 percent "false positive" rate, that is,
indicating a potentially cancerous lesion when one is not present. A
false positive reading can lead to unnecessary and costly medical
procedures including surgical biopsy.
Blumenthal said that the current collaboration between HHS and CIA
scientists will seek to develop a new generation of equipment, based
on missile targeting and reconnaissance imaging technologies, that can
more accurately detect breast cancers by enhancing current
One such new technology, developed by the National Information Display
Laboratories -- a working group of the CIA -- is a computer-assisted
pattern recognition system that can detect small objects in large
pictorial images, such as missile targets in reconnaissance imagery.
Researchers believe that this technology can also be used to detect
breast cancers in the context of surrounding tissue structures such as
mammary ducts and blood vessels. The new technology is called neural
networks because it is based on a sophisticated computer design that
emulates the way brain cells communicate.
Scientists are also evaluating intelligence imaging alignment
technologies used to compare changes in target scenes in images taken
from different viewpoints for similar use in comparing
three-dimensional breast scans produced by magnetic resonance imaging,
MRI, one of the newer medical imaging methods, uses high-contrast
agents that highlight or "light up" potentially cancerous breast
lesions. A scan taken before introduction of the agent is compared by
a radiologist to that taken after administration of the agent. Precise
alignment of these images is the key factor in obtaining a more
accurate identification of changes in breast tissue.
CIA scientists have also found that by precisely superimposing new and
older aerial reconnaissance images and deleting areas that remain
unchanged over time, subtle alterations can be detected. In
reconnaissance film, the change might indicate troop movements. With
mammograms, which provide two-dimensional views of breast tissue
similar to the flat images rendered by aerial photos, a detected
change might indicate the growth of cancerous tissue in the breast.
According to scientists, the CIA's two-dimensional image alignment
technology offers the potential for considerable improvement on the
current false positive and negative rates found in mammography
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list