Chinese researchers have found a "faster, cheaper, non-invasive method" of diagnosing cervical cancer, Optics.org has reported, and it is with the aid of photoacoustic technology. Photoacoustic imaging techniques are already used for the detection of skin or breast cancer, as well as for monitoring individual therapy of such diseases, and has an incredibly high rate of accuracy.
More than 30 cervical tissues samples were examined by the researchers at the Central South University, based in Hunan, some of which were taken from healthy women and some contained cancerous cells of a cervical tumour. Photoacoustic imaging was used to help distinguish between the healthy, normal cells and those that were cancerous. The technology also offers scientists the option to evaluate at what stage of development the cancer is at.
Jiaying Xiao, one of the assistant professors for biomedical engineering at the university—who also led the study—said that the results "shows that the photoacoustic imaging may have great potential in the clinical diagnosis of cervical cancer [...] The technique is non-invasive and can detect the lesions in the cervical canal, an area that conventional methods fail to observe. The photoacoustic imaging can also evaluate the invasion depth of cervical lesions more effectively."
Photoacoustic imaging is a hybrid optical imaging technique. It combines the high optical contrast of pure optical imaging with the high spatial resolution and the deep imaging depth of ultrasound, the article notes. Laser pulses are used to expose biological tissues, with some of the laser energy being absorbed and turned into heat; this heat leads to thermal expansion inside the tissues, thus producing ultrasonic waves. These waves are detected by an ultrasonic sensor which then forms photoacoustic images of the tissue.