The new technology developed with support from the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) can help to distinguish between benign and malignant breast tumors
Ultrasound is major medical imaging procedure conducted for diagnosis of various medical conditions. It is more compact, safe, and affordable as compared to nuclear Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) techniques. However, images produced by ultrasound are often difficult to interpret. A team from ETH Zurich with SNSF developed a new method based on the speed of sound. Initial prototype reported promising results in breast cancer detection. The study was published in journal Physics in Medicine and Biology.
An ultrasound probe emits sound waves that penetrate the body, as organs and tissues have different physical properties, they reflect the waves differently. The device analyses these ‘echoes’ and reconstructs a three-dimensional image of the inside of the body, called an ‘echograph’ or ultrasound. Conventionally the device measures intensity of the reflected sound waves. The Zurich team considered additional parameter called as echo duration. This new method produces images with enhanced contrast, which effectively diagnose cancer.
This innovation is based on principle of density and rigidity of the tissues, which determines the speed of the sound echo. Tumors are more rigid than the surrounding tissue, especially when they are cancerous. As a result, sound travels 3% faster on average in malignant tissues as compared to healthy tissues and also 1.5% faster than in benign tumors. Furthermore, the technique can be used with any equipment, as the key innovation is the processing software. Moreover, the team is conducting clinical trials – particularly in the area of liver disease and certain muscular disorders due to aging that often lead to stiffening of tissues. Their patent-pending technique requires only minor adaptations to current devices.