London

New technology out of Western University helps oncologists treat gynaecological cancers

It started with a doctor asking for help. The radiation oncologist wanted to improve the accuracy of treating women with gynaecological cancers such as vaginal, cervical and uterine cancer.

Researchers have developed a 3D ultrasound allowing better accuracy during radiation treatment.

This 3D ultrasound machine, which was created from a conventional ultrasound probe, can provide a 360-degree, three-dimensional view of surgical tools and surrounding tissue and organs to more accurately target gynaecological cancers. (Western University)

It started with a doctor asking for help. The radiation oncologist wanted to improve the accuracy of treating women with gynaecological cancers such as vaginal, cervical and uterine cancer.

The treatment involves needles being used to inject tumours. But, doctors didn't have what they needed to ensure the needles were going to the right place.

"A physician came to us and said that this is an issue. Can we develop or invent a better way to see the needles after they've been inserted," said Aaron Fenster, PhD and principal investigator of the research. 

That led Fenster on a four year quest to develop 3D ultrasound technology with the help of others at Western University's Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry. 

Prevent complications for women

The goal is to reduce the risk of complications such as the needle going into the bladder or rectum, said Fenster. 

The 3D ultrasound offers radiation oncologists a 360 degree, three-dimentional view of the area being treated. Until now, the doctors have had to use pre-operative images to place the needles inside a woman while she was under anesthesia. Then, when she was awake, they'd move her to a CT scanner to check the placement of the needles. 

"It takes time. It's very uncomfortable moving (the woman) with these needles in place," said Fenster. 

He said this technology has the potential to be practice-changing. 

"It gives the radiation oncologist confidence that they're able to guide the needle accurately and deliver the dose plan accurately."

The technology was tested at the London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) on six patients.

Like a back up camera

In a news release issued by Western, radiation oncologist, Dr. David D'Souza, likened the 3D ultrasound to having a back up camera on your car. 

"Interstitial needles allow a radioactive source to go directly into the tumour tissue resulting in a better dose of radiation, which is hoped to translate into better chances of eradicating the cancer," he said. "The 360 3D ultrasound is an additional tool to guide the placement of the needles in an accurate manner." 

Fenster said the goals now are to see the technology used by other cancer centres and commercialize the technology. 

"We want to get multiple cancer centres in Canada to test our concept and to validate it," he said. 

Another potential benefit of 3D ultrasound said Fenster is that, globally, virtually every hospital has ultrasound. That's not always the case when it comes to other technology such as CT scans.

"It's very exciting," Fenster said. "We are working with physicians who are dealing with these cases. To see that they are quite excited is very rewarding."