The Royal Free Hospital has become the first hospital in the UK to offer a new technology to help diagnose breast cancer.

The new equipment called breast PET (Positron Emission Tomography) produces a 3D image of the breast that shows the activity of cancerous masses.

The use of the machine is being pioneered by a team at the Royal Free, including consultant oncological surgeon Mo Keshtgar.

He said: “We use a range of imaging methods to help us diagnose breast cancer, including mammography, ultrasound and MRI, with breast PET being the latest weapon in our armoury.

“It will be an especially useful tool in younger patients with dense breasts, when it is often harder to detect cancer using a mammogram. We also know that breast density is associated with increased breast cancer risk.

“Breast PET allows us to study the metabolic activity going on in the breast. It involves injecting a small amount of radioactive glucose to see how the cells react to it.

“As cancerous cells take up more glucose than normal cells, the cancerous area lights up on the image and we can locate the cancer. The high metabolic activity of cancerous cells shows up on the image as a bright spot, so it is easy to diagnose.”

In certain patients, the technology can also be used to monitor their response to breast cancer treatment. Results can be seen as early as after one cycle of chemotherapy, whereas with a MRI, the response can usually only be determined after two or three cycles.

Mr Keshtgar added: “Another benefit of this technology is improved comfort for patients. There is no breast compression involved like traditional mammography; the patient simply has to lie face down.”