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Seed funding aims to improve prostate cancer diagnoses

Mar 11, 2013   |   by Jennifer Durgin   |   Dartmouth Medicine

For men with prostate cancer, getting an accurate diagnosis can mean the difference between having their prostate removed and choosing a less aggressive treatment option. But often it's difficult to know just how serious a particular prostate cancer is because biopsies can be misleading, suggesting that a cancer is more or less aggressive than it really is.

Ryan Halter
Professor Ryan Halter

"In an estimated 30-to-60% of cases, there is a lack of agreement between the cancer grade identified through biopsy and that found in the prostate once it is removed following surgery," explains Ryan Halter, Ph.D., a biomedical engineer at Dartmouth's Thayer School and an adjunct assistant professor of surgery at Geisel. "Sometimes the prediction is right on. Sometimes it's not." Given that prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men, with an estimated 240,000 Americans diagnosed in 2012, this is a big problem.

Halter is working to improve the accuracy of prostate cancer diagnoses, thanks in part to two recent grants from the New Hampshire Prostate Cancer Coalition (NHPCC). The Coalition works with hospitals, doctors, lawmakers, and New Hampshire residents to educate men and their families about prostate cancer, to encourage informed decision-making, and, ultimately, to reduce prostate cancer deaths in the state.

"The NHPCC grants have enabled me to try some new things that I wouldn't have been able to try with other, more restrictive funding sources," says Halter.

Halter is using a novel approach that combines routine ultrasound imaging with electrical impedance tomography (EIT). EIT imaging works by measuring the different electrical properties of normal and cancerous tissues and creating a tissue map based on that data.

"The idea is to put electrical property images on top of the ultrasound images and hopefully provide better targeting for biopsies," explains Halter. That, in turn, should lead to more accurate diagnoses.

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