A new way to ‘see’ cancer

In 2016, a group of engineers and doctors at Washington University in St. Louis launched efforts to determine if an imaging-based technique could provide a more detailed view of the cancer and enable women to make an informed decision for treatment options at the onset. This process combines an ultrasound with an additional optical imaging component—diffused near-infrared light.

An ultrasound of breast cancer, which only shows the tumor indistinctly. Credit: Getty Images

Preliminary findings in a pilot study suggest that, after just a couple of weeks, the technique can show how a patient’s breast tumor is responding to a particular chemotherapy regimen, based on the amount of vascular activity and changes. The combined ultrasound-infrared technique shows promise that it can track a tumor’s response to chemotherapy, regardless of its genetic markers.

With ovarian cancer, the researchers applied similar principles combining ultrasound with photoacoustic technology. The light is absorbed by the suspected tumor and generates a slight temperature change that converts to sound waves. The sound waves can be detected and analyzed as markers of a cancerous tumor. This technique is not only safer, but costs far less than the other imaging processes.

Read the full piece in Scientific American.