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This section originally published 8/26/20 @ The American Council on Science and Health (www.acsh.org)
Patient-Specific Anxiety: "My PSA was 22. I had a biopsy; it was benign...GOOD! The biopsy showed inflammation, so I had a (surgical) biopsy I didn’t need... BAD! There has to be a better way!”
THE BIOPSY is an invasive procedure removing a small section of tissue and examination for cancer cells. It remains the gold standard in diagnosing prostate cancer. Biopsies are now performed in an office setting, using topical or sedation anesthesia. It involves using a needle to obtain tissue from the prostate through the rectum. Twenty five years ago the routine biopsy protocol called for six needle cores. Because it was performed without imaging, it missed many cancers deep within the prostate. The number of tissue samples taken was expanded to 12 and even up to 96 cores at some centers. Needle biopsies cause serious complications in 1% of patients - even fatal outcomes have recorded. Infection which can require prolonged antibiotic therapy is the most common problem. Nowadays biopsies are guided, meaning that doctors use imaging through ultrasound or MRI to direct the needles to areas of concern.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men, with 46,690 cases diagnosed each year in the UK. The PSA blood test is one of the main ways, along with a rectal exam, that doctors can look for signs of prostate cancer. The test measures the level of PSA in a blood sample. And while it’s normal for men to have some PSA in their blood, a raised level can be a sign of prostate cancer. But PSA can be raised for lots of other reasons too, meaning a man might get an abnormal result when he doesn’t have cancer.
It seems counter-intuitive to suggest that some cancers would be better off left alone. Especially when early diagnosis can boost treatment success for some cancers. But these overdiagnosed cancers pose a serious problem. Some cancers grow fast and spread quickly, but some grow so slowly that if they went undetected they wouldn’t cause a person any problems. People with these harmless cancers won’t have any symptoms, and they won’t die from the disease. In other words, it doesn’t matter if the cancer is never found. When these slow-growing cancers are found they’re said to be over-diagnosed. Read more: Overdiagnosis – when finding cancer can do more harm than good (see complete article @ CancerResearchUK)
THE CANCER IMAGING ADVANTAGEMedical imaging (and screening) especially of cancer tumors has advanced since the establishment of the x-ray in 1895. Imaging earned the acceptance in the medical community as a low-risk, reliable and non-invasive (no-cutting) alternative. It is widely employed today as a routine and standardized diagnostic protocol in almost every area of healthcare. Treatment specialists and research scientists alike rely (solely) on medical imaging technology as the go-to protocol to investigate a patient's physiological condition in pathology studies. revolution harvested and processed images from an electronic photo conductor, managed bio-information into electronic pixels for more efficient management of diagnostic studies. The Digital state allowed for computerized intervention to optimize and expand the data acquiring process to new heights of study including 3D modeling- offering a 3D visualization of anatomical studies. This also paved the way for the induction of AI (artificial intelligence) which was developed to automate analytical paradigms (algorithms) for quicker analysis, advanced workflow, optimized visual dissection, extrapolation and 'prediction' of any biological information with remarkable performance.
DOPPLER ULTRASOUND: In 1994 Prof. Francois Cornud in Paris developed a better way to sample the tissue of the prostate using Doppler ultrasound. Doppler shows tumor vascular flow the same way the Weather Doppler shows tornadoes as bright yellow colors so the more red tumor vessels in the sonogram means more aggressive pathology. The presence of tumor related blood vessels also poses a hazard during biopsy that might result in bleeding and infection even though it indicates a more serious tumor. The accuracy of the Doppler analysis is so accurate that inflammatory arteries may be distinguished from malignant vessels meaning biopsy may be avoided in inflamed areas. Not only is the Doppler map of tumor vessels useful as a cancer marker for determining metastatic potential it is often used as a treatment guide. Arteries that grow the malignancy are reduced in the presence of effective cancer treatment making this 10 minute examination both safer for diagnosis but also a means of indirectly monitoring therapy.
Since, prostate cancer is in many instances, slow growing, early cases are often managed by watchful waiting, without invasive surgery, hormone therapy or chemotherapy. Ultrasound imaging that detects increases in tumor vascularity allows patients with biopsy proven cancers to come in for regular scans to see if their disease is stable if more aggressive treatment is indicated.
3D/4D ULTRASOUND: Computers have greatly enhanced medical imaging. Current Doppler systems capture 250 images in 10 seconds in three directions. These “multiplanar” images are reconstructed by the software allowing us to see the prostate capsule far more clearly than an MRI since the examining probe touches the prostate gland. This is important as extension of a cancer into the capsule or through the outer margin surrounding the prostate implies possible tumor spread to other organs.
These technologies have been further improved because the Doppler’s images are focused on specific areas using 4D to target a concerning site and additional data describing blood flow is obtained. This data can be combined to generate a quantitative reading of the tumor vessel density to serve as a treatment guide. Vessel density of 15% is found in aggressive cancers requiring intervention; while densities of 1-2% are noted in most low grade tumors that are monitored by 6 month ultrasound appointments.
Remember the biopsies that evolved from 6 to 96 cores? Ultrasound probes have progressed from 9 MHz used by urologists to 18 in radiologic systems to 29. The 29 MHz probe recently developed in Europe is currently used to avoid biopsies today in some US medical centers although its has limited depth penetration. These combined imaging systems are reducing prostate biopsies in clinical practice.
NON CONTRAST / EZRA MRI: Just as ultrasound Doppler is used to avoid dye (contrast) injection, the heavy metal containing Gadolinium MRI contrast is being phased out by the upgrades in MRI technology. In use in Europe for 3 years, a version is now available in the US that affords high resolution without contrast injection. (more info)
ELASTOGRAPHY: Cancer is texturally hard – so a firm mass in the breast or a rock hard area in the prostate are strong clinical indicators of malignancy. The accuracy of an experienced digital rectal exam is generally 3 times more accurate than the PSA and its refined variations. Advanced sonogram technology quantifies tissue hardness and is used worldwide to avoid biopsies in many organs-primarily breast, thyroid, prostate and liver.
About the Author
Dr. Bard received the 2020 nationally acclaimed Ellis Island Award for his lifetime achievement in advanced cancer diagnostic imaging. He co-founded the 9/11 CancerScan program to bring additional diagnostic support to all first responders from Ground Zero. His main practice in midtown, NYC (Bard Diagnostic Imaging- www.CancerScan.com) uses the latest in digital imaging technology and has been also used to help guide biopsies and in many cases, even replicate much of the same reports of a clinical invasive biopsy. Imaging solutions such as high-powered sonograms, Power Doppler Histogram, Sonofluoroscopy, 3D/4D image reconstruction and the Power Doppler Histogram are safe, noninvasive, and do not use ionizing radiation.
First Responders Cancer: Inspiring a Global Diagnostic Upgrade
The radiology community took time to appreciate that pathologic cancer tissue under microscope can be clinically dormant with some patients. This means a biopsy that looks like malignancy can act like a chronic disease. New high resolution ultrasound units and computerized optical devices are now used instead of MRI for diagnosing Prostate Cancer in Europe and guiding biopsies without x-rays. MRI has shown to be less accurate in the upper and lower parts of the prostate gland and has a 33% false positive rate in the presence of inflammation. When the sonogram finds prostatitis, MRI is deferred until the infection is resolved.
From our experience working with the many first responder cases, we have been alerted to the greatly increased risk of cancer following toxic exposure. Surprisingly, first responders are developing prostate and skin cancers at a higher rate than lung cancer. New portable sonogram systems are able to find and quantify the heavy metal effects on the skin in a 5 minute exam which is now called ULTRASOUND BIOMICROSCOPY. This is important since tissue under a microscope is not living while sonogram technology gives a live tissue real-time virtual biopsy.
2) End of an Era: The Demise of Film in Radiology: https://radiology.ucsf.edu/blog/imaging-news/end-of-an-era-the-demise-of-film-in-radiology
Bard R: Contrast MRI and 3D Doppler Ultrasound presented at the
109th Annual Meeting of the American Roentgen Ray Society (2009) Boston
Bard R: Contrast MRI Atlas of Prostate Cancer (2009) Springer Berlin
Bard R: Editor; Image Guided Prostate Cancer Treatment (2013) Springer New York
6) African American Men More Likely to Die from Low-Grade Prostate Cancer: NIH
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