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Ultrasound could help diagnose prostate cancer

Researchers in Netherlands develop new technique involving the injection of contrast agent via microbubbles to find tumors and even determine how aggressive cancer is.

Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore is based in Portland, Oregon, and has written for Wired, The Christian Science Monitor, and public radio. Her semi-obscure hobbies include climbing, billiards, board games that take up a lot of space, and piano.
Elizabeth Armstrong Moore
2 min read

In 2010 alone, some 217,730 men in the U.S. have been diagnosed with prostate cancer, and some 32,050 have died from it, according to the American Cancer Society. But diagnosis relies largely on painful, nontargeted biopsies that result in many false negative results.

Massimo Mischi of Eindhoven University of Technology helped develop the new imaging technique. Bart van Overbeeke

So researchers at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands have been developing a technique that uses ultrasound to more effectively target tumors, and they say they've had great success in the four patients on whom they've tested it.

The technique involves injecting microbubbles of a contrast agent into the patient. Using ultrasound, these tiny bubbles respond differently than tissue and blood do, which makes them traceable--even in the smallest blood vessels. The researchers look for the pattern of blood vessels, as those appear differently in tumors than in healthy tissue, and the concentration of those microbubbles helps to reveal these patterns.

Furthermore, the pattern of blood vessels might even determine how aggressive the cancer is, because tumors require new blood vessels to continue to grow.

After finding the exact location and size of tumors in the four patients they recently tested, the team reports that it is now organizing a pilot study to conduct in 2011 during which they will use this new imaging process to better guide biopsies in prostate cancer patients.

Eventually, they hope to use their technology to determine whether biopsies are required at all, and they say they expect to bring their technology to hospitals within five years.

In addition to the Eindhoven University of Technology, the tech is being developed by AMC Amsterdam, the Catharina Hospital in Eindhoven, and a number of ultrasound companies.