Leaving Cancer Nowhere to Hide

Biomedical engineering scientists at Riverside Research have developed an ultrasonic method that depicts the entire lymph node in 3D, using color to indicate cancerous regions.

In 1983, Riverside Research scientists established the initial theoretical framework for evaluating tissues based on how they scatter ultrasound waves. More recently, Riverside Research scientists made another medically important advancement by applying its scattering-theory framework to detect small foci of cancers that have spread to lymph nodes.

The primary way pathologists determine whether a cancer has spread or has remained localized to its primary site is by dissecting and microscopically evaluating the patient’s lymph nodes. If cancer is found in the nodes, the cancer has spread and the patient must undergo systemic treatments involving chemotherapy and radiation that increase the cost of care, affect the entire body, and can have severe side effects. If the nodes are truly cancer-free, then the disease is almost certainly confined to its primary site. In this case, surgery or local radiation of the primary tumor can be performed, resulting in lower costs for care and fewer and more-limited side effects compared to systemic treatments.

Unfortunately, current pathology procedures can overlook small, clinically significant cancers in dissected lymph nodes because they typically examine only the central region of each node. Fortunately, scientists at the Lizzi Center for Biomedical Engineering at Riverside Research have developed an ultrasonic method that depicts the entire lymph node in 3D, using color to indicate cancerous regions. This 3D imaging and analysis method can detect small cancer foci that would have been missed using more conventional methods. This approach can also eliminate unnecessary microscopic examination of cancer-free nodes. Analyzing dissected nodes with these new methods will permit doctors to plan treatments more effectively and to employ time and resources far more efficiently in the pathology laboratory.

In a large, multi-institutional project recently funded by the NIH, Riverside Research biomedical scientists and collaborating researchers at the GE Global Research Center, the State University of New York, and the University of Hawaii are now investigating the applicability of these methods to detecting cancer in lymph nodes while they remain inside the body. Additional studies at the Lizzi Center apply these methods to detect and image cancer in the prostate and breast.