Ultrasound-based imaging method spots prostate cancer

A team of researchers at the Eindhoven University of Technology, in co-operation with AMC Amsterdam, has developed an imaging technology based on ultrasound that can accurately identify cancerous tumours in the prostate.

Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer among men, but its diagnosis has up to now been inaccurate.

Currently, prostate cancer diagnosis is still rudimentary. After determining the PSA (prostate-specific antigen) level in the blood, biopsies are performed to determine whether there are tumours in the prostate. However, the PSA level is not a very good indicator - two-thirds of all biopsies turn out to have been unnecessary.

In the new technique, microbubbles of a contrast agent are injected into the blood vessels of the prostate. Since the pattern of the blood vessels found in tumours is different from that in healthy tissue, the researchers can then recognise the pattern from an analysis of the bubble concentrations using ultrasound. And because tumours need blood - and hence new blood vessels - to grow, the researchers also expect to be able to determine how aggressive any cancer is.

The technology has been tested on four patients from whom the affected prostate was removed, said Dr Massimo Mischi of the Eindhoven University of Technology Department of Electrical Engineering. The location and size of the tumours accurately matched the images produced using the new technique.

In addition to the Eindhoven University of Technology and AMC Amsterdam, the Catharina Hospital in Eindhoven and a number of ultrasound companies are also involved in developing the technology.