In 1983, Riverside Research scientists established the initial theoretical framework for evaluating tissues based on the manner in which they scatter ultrasound. More recently, Riverside Research scientists made another medically important advance by applying its scattering-theory framework to detection of small foci of cancers that have spread to lymph nodes.
The primary way pathologists determine whether a cancer has spread or remains localized to its primary site is by dissecting and microscopically evaluating a patient’s lymph nodes. If cancer is found in the nodes, then the cancer has spread, and the patient undergoes systemic treatments involving chemotherapy and radiation, which 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, and surgery or local radiation of the primary tumor is performed, which results in 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 analysis and imaging 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 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 NIH, Lizzi Center scientists now are investigating the applicability of these methods to detecting cancer in lymph nodes while they remain within the body. Additional studies at the Lizzi Center apply these methods to detecting and imaging cancer in the prostate and breast.