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Three-Dimensional Thermal Tomography Advances Cancer Treatment (ANL-IN-07-170)

Argonne National Laboratory

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	Change in temperature over time <em>(1)</em> is used to calculate the 3-dimensional effusivity distribution <em>(2).</em> Each slice represents a given depth with thickness ~25 &mu;m.</p>

Change in temperature over time (1) is used to calculate the 3-dimensional effusivity distribution (2). Each slice represents a given depth with thickness ~25 μm.

Technology Marketing Summary

Because they grow more quickly than healthy cells, cancer cells are typically a few degrees higher in temperature. This attribute makes it possible to detect cancer cells through thermal imaging. In active thermal imaging, heat or cold is applied to an object and an infrared camera is used to observe the resulting temperature change. For this reason, thermal imaging is helpful in detecting breast cancer and determining skin damage as a result of radiation cancer treatment.

A recent advance in thermal imaging allows more rapid, yet still non-invasive, detection. The process, called three-dimensional thermal tomography, or 3DTT, is expected to enhance the treatment experience for breast cancer patients.


An estimated 80 percent of patients undergoing radiation treatment for breast cancer will develop a skin reaction 10–14 days into a treatment cycle. In severe cases, the reaction causes discomfort and can disrupt therapy. However, skin reactions are treatable. A team of researchers from Rush University Medical Center and Argonne National Laboratory is using the 3-D technique to detect early skin changes and facilitate earlier delivery of preventive treatment.

Clinical tests used 3DTT to measure the skin’s thermal effusivity—that is, its ability to exchange heat with its surroundings. In the test, a flash of filtered light heats the skin while an infrared camera captures a time series of images of changes in skin temperature. Using a tomography algorithm to convert the temperature changes into the thermal effusivity at different skin depths, the researchers discovered the effusivity values of damaged skin tissue differ from that of healthy skin.

Preliminary data show that marked reductions in the effusivity levels of irradiated skin occur well in advance of development of high-grade skin reactions. Soon, the team hopes to apply the 3DTT technique in breast cancer patients. Also underway is the development of an even more sophisticated algorithm to improve resolution at subsurface depths.

  • Non-invasive
  • Measures tissue property changes without interrupting treatment
  • Provides rapid feedback to clinicians
  • May be used to predict rashes due to radiation treatment for breast (and other types of) cancer earlier (i.e., before rashes appear) and thereby start early preventive measure
  • May help detect other conditions, such as skin cancer, where changes in effusivity would enable researchers to locate and quantify the number of cancer cells
  • May be used to measure skin damage caused by electricity or lightning and to evaluate the progress of skin grafts
Applications and Industries
  • Medicine
Patents and Patent Applications
ID Number
Title and Abstract
Primary Lab
Patent 7,538,938
Optical filter for flash lamps in pulsed thermal imaging
An optical filter made from a borosilicate optical material is provided for flash lamps used in pulsed thermal imaging. The filter substantially eliminates the infrared radiation from flash lamps to allow for accurate detection of surface temperature during entire pulsed thermal imaging tests.
Argonne National Laboratory 05/26/2009
Patent 7,365,330
Method for thermal tomography of thermal effusivity from pulsed thermal imaging
A computer-implemented method for automated thermal computed tomography includes providing an input of heat, for example, with a flash lamp, onto the surface of a sample. The amount of heat and the temperature rise necessary are dependent on the thermal conductivity and the thickness of the sample being inspected. An infrared camera takes a rapid series of thermal images of the surface of the article, at a selected rate, which can vary from 100 to 2000 frames per second. Each infrared frame tracks the thermal energy as it passes from the surface through the material. Once the infrared data is collected, a data acquisition and control computer processes the collected infrared data to form a three-dimensional (3D) thermal effusivity image.
Argonne National Laboratory 04/29/2008
Technology Status
Technology IDDevelopment StageAvailabilityPublishedLast Updated
ANL-IN-07-170Development - Ready for prototype development.Available02/07/201202/07/2012

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To: Elizabeth Jordan<>