New portable device with hand-held probe could help reduce unnecessary thyroid cancer surgery

A team of experts from around Europe has come together to develop a portable device with a hand-held probe that will dramatically reduce invasive diagnostic and therapeutic procedures in the treatment of thyroid nodules, saving approximately €450 million Euros every year.

The Photonics PPP and EU-funded Laser and Ultrasound Co-Analyzer for Thyroid Nodules, or LUCA, is a state-of-the-art device built to make thyroid nodule diagnosis more accurate and more objective.

With as much as 30 percent of adults in Europe, or 128.9 million people having to deal with a thyroid nodule at some point in their lives, accurate diagnosis has never been so important.

Each year in Europe alone, around 800,000 cases of detected thyroid nodules will be non-diagnostic, or indeterminate. Of all these cases, 150,000, or nearly 19%, will end up being benign and could have avoided surgery altogether.

At €3000 per operation, excluding additional medical costs, 150,000 unnecessary surgeries could mean saving over €450 million annually. “This money is wasted. We cannot, however, put a price on the wellbeing of a patient who does not have to undergo unnecessary surgery”, said ICREA Professor at ICFO- The Institute of Photonic Sciences, and the scientific coordinator of LUCA, Turgut Durduran.

According to Dr. Mireia Mora from the August Pi i Sunyer Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBAPS) in Barcelona:

Current technology does not allow us to know whether a nodule is malignant or benign, before surgery takes place. We cannot take the risk of a misdiagnosis, so we operate.

LUCA will eliminate a lot of this guesswork. It will provide objective information so that we can see if a nodule is malignant or benign.

Small in size, similar to a fizzy drink bottle, the LUCA probe is placed on the neck of the patient, sending light and ultrasound of different wavelengths and frequencies into the skin. “Ultrasound sees the structure and light sees the physiology, meaning we can see in much more detail than ever before”, Dr Mora said.

According to, Professor Durduran:

The LUCA platform combines ultrasound and near-infrared diffuse optical technologies in a single device and a probe. By combining information about tissue hemodynamics, chemical constitution as well as anatomy, the technique used by this device will overcome the shortcomings of present techniques while screening for malignant thyroid nodules.

Women tend to be more affected by this condition. Out of 30% of Europeans who have thyroid nodules, women are three times more likely to develop nodules than men. However, of those diagnosed with a malignant nodule, the ratio then drops to 2:1, men to women, respectively, albeit the fact that thyroid cancer is still more prevalent in women than in men.

The implications of the LUCA device are extremely promising since it will not only signify a change in thyroid cancer screening techniques, but it may also have a potential use in the diagnosis of other cancers, such as the breast or any part of the body that is accessible.

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