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New Breast Scanner First For Northern Ireland

Breast cancer patients in Northern Ireland are set to benefit from a new state of the art 3D breast imaging system, the first of its kind available to NHS patients in Northern Ireland, thanks to local charity Friends of the Cancer Centre.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in Northern Ireland and of the 1,200 diagnosed each year approximately 75 women will choose to undergo breast reconstruction following, or as part of, their treatment.  The new 3D breast imaging system, which has been 100% funded by Friends of the Cancer Centre, is the first of its kind in Northern Ireland available to oncology patients and the particular model is the first of its kind anywhere in the world.  The equipment is part of the medical illustration department at Belfast City Hospital and will play a vital role in the patient pathway by providing the surgical team optimal pre-operative assessment and surgical planning for women considering reconstructive surgery after undergoing a mastectomy.  

The new imaging system is made up of 12 cameras which take multiple images of the patient during a single five minute session.  These images then come together to produce one 3D image which can be moved and manipulated by the surgeon during the planning process.  For the patient, the new imaging system is also hugely beneficial as it will offer women a more realistic visual representation of how their reconstruction will look, allowing them to make an informed decision on if reconstruction is the right choice for them. 

Commenting on the role the charity played in bringing this new technology to local patients, Colleen Shaw, Chief Executive of Friends of the Cancer Centre, said:

“Friends of the Cancer Centre strives to ensure that people affected by cancer locally have the best treatment and services available and we know that this new piece of equipment will greatly benefit women across Northern Ireland.

“Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in Northern Ireland and many of these women will be faced with the possibility of undergoing reconstructive surgery.  For any woman faced with this prospect it is an extremely difficult decision, but we hope that the new technology will help some women through this process as it will give each patient a better idea of what they will look like post-op, allowing them to make an informed decision on what is best for them. The new system will also make the imaging and photographing process, which is a vital step, a little less intimidating and scary which is a really important factor in making a difficult time a little easier for the patient.” 

Traditional imaging methods of breast cancer patients entail patients being photographed at several angles in an open room with a medical photographer.  The new system offers women more privacy as the patient will stand in one position and in a more enclosed environment, with the built in cameras being operated via a computer by a medical photographer.  This greater level of privacy will lessen the distress for the patient and help maintain dignity during an already worrying and frightening time. 

The new technology will have a significant impact on the surgical team at Belfast City Hospital and their patients.  Mr Stuart McIntosh, Consultant Breast Surgeon at Belfast Health and Social Care Trust and Senior Clinical Lecturer at Queen’s University, said:

“This new technology is very exciting for us as a surgical team as it allows us to enhance  the breast surgery services provided at Belfast City Hospital.  Before the introduction of the new 3D system, surgical staff would have relied on a traditional camera to take several individual 2D images of the patient.  The new imaging system will allow us to generate one complete, high quality, 3D image of each individual patient which we can then use to discuss options with the patient and also plan for any procedures in a much more precise way.

“The particular model that we have is actually the first of its kind anywhere in the world, so we are offering our patients the very latest and very best new technology available globally.  This has all been possible thanks to the support and backing of Friends of the Cancer.”

The new imaging technology will also be used by researchers from Queen’s University’s Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology, where Mr McIntosh is a Senior Clinical Lecturer, and Ulster University in a collaborative approach to investigate further development and applications of 3D surface imaging which could benefit more breast cancer patients in the future, as well as those suffering from other diseases. 

Outlining the potential impact the new technology might have on local research, Dr John Winder, Reader, Healthcare Science, Ulster University, said:

“Medical and surgical technology is constantly evolving and this new piece of equipment will give us the opportunity to use the very latest technology in our research at Ulster University.  For example, we are hoping to use the new equipment to measure the effects of other cancer treatments such as radiotherapy on the outcomes of breast reconstruction surgery, and to assess if any improvements can be made that would improve patient outcomes.”


For further information, please contact Nuala Bannon, communications manager at Friends of the Cancer Centre 028 9069 9393 or