World Cancer Day: Can Ultrasound Detect Cancer?
What is World Cancer Day?
The 4th of February is World Cancer Day, an initiative of the Union for International Cancer Control. Started in 2000, the campaign seeks to raise awareness of the disease that causes up to 10 million deaths a year and to promote access to early detection and treatment for all, regardless of income, ethnicity or gender. As stated on the campaigns official website:
More than one third of cancer cases can be prevented. Another third can be cured if detected early and treated properly. By implementing resource-appropriate strategies on prevention, early detection and treatment, we can save millions of lives every year. (https://www.worldcancerday.org/why-cancer)
What is Cancer?
Cancer can be a difficult topic to discuss. As it is such a widespread disease, most of us have lost someone to cancer at some stage in our lives. However, talking about cancer, and being able to spread awareness of the disease, is one of many ways to encourage those we love to go to their doctor if they think something is wrong. There can be a tendency to brush away concerns, or to delay consulting a doctor, or to fear you’re ‘over-reacting’, but there is no shame in getting a medical opinion. At the end of the day, peace of mind is paramount.
Cancer can emerge in many different forms, in different parts of the body. Every so often, the cells within an organ die off, which means new cells have to be created to replace the ones lost. Cancer occurs when these new cells begin to grow, but for some reason, multiply out of control, taking over the organ in question. These malfunctioning cells then develop into a mass, called a tumour.
Tumours can cause harm to the body by damaging the organs they are closest to, as they continue to grow and press against them. They can also break off, invading other organs or tissues. How a tumour behaves depends on the type tumour it is diagnosed as:
- If a tumour is benign, this means it is only causing damage to the organ it originated in, and has not spread to other organs. Benign tumours can be surgically removed or treated with drugs and radiation therapy.
- If a tumour is malignant, this means it can spread. The cells of this tumour can spread by growing into other organs, by entering the lymphatic system, or by entering the bloodstream.
Can Ultrasound Detect Cancer?
Ultrasound can be employed in many useful ways when it comes to the early detection of cancer. As it does not use radiation, ultrasound can be a quicker, cheaper, safer way to initially spot masses in various organs, which can then be flagged for follow-up with a specialist exam. It is important to note, however, that ultrasound cannot diagnose if a mass is cancerous or not.
Ultrasound scans of soft tissue areas can be quite effective, as they can pick up soft tissue abnormalities that don’t show up on CT or MRI scans. Ultrasound can also effectively tell the difference between a fluid filled cyst versus a solid mass. Doppler ultrasound can be used to detect abnormal blood flow around a possible tumour. Doctors can also use ultrasound to guide a needle when taking a biopsy of a mass.
What To Do If You Are Concerned
If you or a family member have been experiencing pain, abnormal health issues, or even suspect an unusual growth and would like an ultrasound, it is absolutely crucial that you make contact with your doctor.
Your doctor will usually first perform a physical exam of the area of concern and may also request that you take a blood test. Depending on the area of concern, they can then choose what type of scan or specialist study to refer you for.
In order to perform any medical ultrasound, we first require a letter of referral from your doctor. This letter should specify the organ or area of concern, as well as any relevant medical information, such as duration of symptoms or family history.
Please note, we unfortunately do not perform breast ultrasounds in our clinics. We advise patients that it is always best to send us a copy of the referral letter in advance of booking, as we can confirm with our sonographers if we can study the area requested. Giving us plenty of advance notice prior to booking can save money, time and avoid any unnecessary confusion.
If you would like more information on anything covered in this post, you can get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org, or send us a message on our Facebook page, and we will get back to you as soon as possible. Our website theultrasoundsuite.ie also provides a wealth of information on our various policies and procedures.