2 New Ultrasound Technologies That Are Already Saving Lives
If you are like most everyday Americans who don't work in the field of medicine, then you likely know that researchers and scientists are always working to find new ways to improve modern medical technology to help save more lives, yet you don't have the time to keep an eye on all of the advances. One technology that is progressing at a rapid pace is ultrasound technology. While you may hear the word "ultrasound" and think of those amazing images that are produced of a growing baby that is still inside the womb, ultrasounds are used for many other purposes, and new uses for them in modern medicine are being discovered frequently. Here are two recent advances in ultrasound technology and how these advances are already saving lives.
1. Contrast Ultrasound Technology is Aiding in Early Liver Cancer Detection
Over 27,000 people die every year from liver cancer in the United States, and like most types of cancer, early detection is one of the keys to surviving it. Only an average of 17 percent of people who develop liver cancer are still alive after five years of living with the disease. However, when detected early, the 5-year survival rate jumps to over 30 percent.
Liver cancer often goes completely undetected until it has reached a deadly stage, partially because most people who develop it don't feel or display symptoms until the cancerous tumors become so large that they begin causing pain or discomfort. However, even people who obtain regular MRIs scans to keep an eye on their liver health due to a family history of the disease still may not catch the disease in its early stages due to the fact that MRI screenings cannot detect all liver tumors.
Medical researchers have recently found a great new way to detect the most common type of liver cancer that is much more reliable than MRI scans. Contrast-enhanced ultrasound has been used successfully to detect liver cancer in patients that MRI scans did not detect.
How does contrast-enhanced ultrasound work? Before the ultrasound, a doctor injects a special microbubble solution into one of the patient's veins. This solution increases the blood Doppler signal, which increases the clarity of the ultrasound image and makes any liver abnormalities, such as tumors, much easier to detect.
2. New Ultrasound Technique Can Distinguish Deadly Artery Plaque from Harmless Plaque
Atherosclerosis is an often-deadly disease that occurs when plaque builds up on artery walls. This plaque is harmful for a variety of reasons; pieces of plaque can break off and then become lodged in the heart and cause a heart attack or lodge in a blood vessel in the brain and cause a stroke.
While doctors used to consider all plaque on artery walls bad and recommend surgery to all patients with atherosclerosis, they have since learned that some of this plaque is less harmful and better to leave alone, while some is "bad plaque" or "vulnerable plaque" and needs to be surgically treated. Vulnerable plaque is typically softer and more prone to breaking off than the less harmful type of plaque.
However, once they learned that not all artery wall plaque poses a serious health risk, but only the vulnerable plaque did, they did not have a good way to determine whether a specific person's artery plaque was good plaque or bad plaque. However, this changed when Swedish medical researchers found a way to tell the difference between these types of artery plaque using ultrasound technology. During an ultrasound scan of an artery, they found that the "bad" plaque sends a different signal to the ultrasound machine than the harmless plaque sends.
This means that a doctor can determine whether a patient has vulnerable artery plaque and needs medical treatment immediately or has harmless plaque that requires no immediate treatment; the doctor will just have to keep an eye on it with a simple ultrasound scan.
Medical technology is always improving, and ultrasound technology is progressing rapidly. These two recent advances in ultrasound technology, along with many more, have already saved many lives and will continue to save many more. For more on this topic, check out a clinic like EVDI Medical Imaging.