3D ultrasound helps radiation oncologists treat gynecological cancers

International researchers have created a new ultrasound probe capable of delivering more precise treatment to women with gynecological cancers, reported authors of a feasibility study published in the Journal of Medical Imaging.

A team from the University of Western Ontario in Canada modified a conventional ultrasound probe—housed in a majority of clinics—to create a technology capable of providing a 360-degree, 3D view of surgical tools and surrounding organs and tissue. When used in the operating room, the probe allows clinicians a clearer and more accurate view of where to insert needles into the tumor during interstitial brachytherapy, a type of radiation therapy.

"The problem with the procedure the way it is now is that doctors don't have a great way of seeing where those needles are going while they are placing them," said co-author Jessica Rodgers, PhD candidate at Western's Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, in a prepared statement. "If they can't place the needles precisely, they may not be placed optimally for giving treatment and may be impinging on organs that are nearby that you don't want to over irradiate."

In the study, the researchers used the novel transvaginal ultrasound (TVUS) system on six patients at the London Health Sciences Center (LHSC), in London, Ontario, Canada. In all participants, landmark anatomical features and all needles were “clearly visible,” the authors wrote.

"This technology provides the operator live feedback and visualization of the needle placement in real time, and allows for needles to be adjusted while the patient is still asleep," said Vikram Velker, MD, a professor at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, Lawson Health Research Institute researcher and radiation oncologist at LHSC.

Ultrasound technology is much cheaper than other imaging modalities and therefore may benefit more resource-strapped regions, the authors noted.

"Access to high-end imaging systems like CT and MRI to diagnose and treat diseases is difficult in some places in the world,” said principal investigator Aaron Fenster, PhD, of the University of Western Ontario. “So for that reason, we've been focusing on ultrasound which is widely available everywhere in the world and can be used for a variety of applications.”