Two researchers at the University of Prince Edward Island are exploring the potential of optoacoustic imaging to diagnose the nature of cancerous tissues without surgery.

The principles of optoacoustics have been known for more than a century. Light is bounced off of tissue, and the tissue responds by making a sound. The pitch and volume of the sound depend on the properties of the tissue.

Michelle Patterson and Bill Whelan

Michelle Patterson and Bill Whelan hope to learn how to determine how aggressive a cancer is using optoacoustics. (Mitch Cormier/CBC)

For two years, Bill Whelan and Michelle Patterson have been researching how optoacoustics might help with cancer diagnosis. They have found that cancerous tissues emits sounds with different pitches and volumes than non-cancerous tissues.

Patterson told CBC News the technique can be used to not just locate the tumor, but also learn more about its biology, which could help determine how aggressive it is.

"Knowing some biology behind the tumour can be very important with treatment," said Patterson.

"It might allow the physician to know should we wait a couple of months and image it again if it seems to be a low aggression tumour. If it has the characteristics of a very aggressive tumour, immediate treatment might be a better approach."

The research was published in the Journal of Biomedical Optics. Patterson said more research still needs to be done before it moves to human trials.

The researchers have created a Youtube video that demonstrates the difference in sounds tumours can make.