Ultrasound Technology for Cancer Patients

Ultrasound Technology for Cancer Patients

By Kenya McCullum,

The use of ultrasound technology in medicine is nothing new, but it is evolving. For decades, doctors have administered ultrasound examinations on patients in order to check on the development of babies in the womb, look for irregularities in patients' kidneys, gallbladder, and liver, and locate lumps in specific areas of women's breasts. Thanks to these tests, doctors are able to make diagnoses and decisions about patient care.

And now, advances in ultrasound technology are making it an integral part of that care. Ultrasound surgery has gained popularity in recent years because it is a less invasive alternative that allows patients to get the treatment they need with reduced pain, side effects, and recovery times.

Ultrasound Surgery Becomes Attractive for Cancer Patient Care

For patients with breast cancer, as well as those with uterine fibroids, ultrasound surgery is becoming an attractive alternative to other treatments designed to remove tumors -- such as lumpectomies, hysterectomies, and mastectomies. During these innovative procedures, ultrasound energy is aimed directly where the tumor is located. As a result, the tumor is heated up until it is burned away. Because the ultrasound beams are directed at only the tumor, the surrounding tissues are left intact, which helps aid in the patient's immediate recovery.

Similarly, ultrasound technology is being used to treat men with prostate cancers. During this procedure, called a high-intensity focused ultrasound, or HIFU, a probe is placed inside the patient's rectum and ultrasound rays are aimed at the cancer cells. As the temperature of the probe increases, cancer cells are virtually cooked until they are killed.

Although medical experts have noted that HIFU is associated with side effects including urinary tract infections and incontinence, they still say that the procedure is a good alternative to other kinds of treatments for prostate cancer, such as radiation and traditional invasive surgery.

Other Medical Uses for Ultrasound Technology

In addition to surgeries that remove tumors, medical professionals also use ultrasound technology to:

  • look at the veins in a patient's body to locate blood clots and other blockages that can put the patient at risk for a stroke
  • find abnormalities of the heart and determine how well blood is being pumped to other parts of the body
  • find telltale risks of heart disease
  • check patients for nerve and tissue damage
  • conduct pelvic exams to find inflammatory diseases and internal bleeding

Types of Ultrasound Technologies

Some common ultrasound technologies used by medical professionals include:

  • Laparoscopy. This technology allows surgeons to see an image of a patient's body to get the information they need to perform procedures, such as guided biopsies.
  • Robotic-assisted surgery. Robotic-assisted surgery allows doctors to have the view and dexterity they need to perform complicated procedures through a small incision in the patient's body.
  • Intraoperative. Through intraoperative technology, surgeons can maneuver safely inside of a patient's body, especially in tight areas, in order to observe what's going on. This view of a patient helps doctors make the best decisions about patient care.

Analogic, "Surgical Solutions: Ultrasound Guidance," 2013, http://www.analogic.com/solutions-medical-surgery.htm

American College of Surgeons, "[ST-31] Ultrasound Examinations by Surgeons," June 1998, http://www.facs.org/fellows_info/statements/st-31.html

Medill Reports -- Chicago, Northwestern University, "Ultrasound therapy 'cooks' tumors, possibly sparing cancer patient side effects," Kirsten Tellam, October 13, 2010, http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=170314

WebMD, "High-Energy Ultrasound Cooks Prostate Tumors," Jeff Levine, May 3, 2000, http://www.webmd.com/prostate-cancer/news/20000505/prostate-tumors-ultrasound

Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography, "Sound Medicine: Understanding Ultrasound and its Benefits," 2013, http://www.sdms.org/public/soundmedicine.asp

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