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CEUS team diagnoses, saves life of young colleague

A diagnosis of late stage colon cancer was not what Barry Lutz expected.

The 44-year old associate professor of bioengineering at the University of Washington was more than 20 years younger than the mean age of men diagnosed with this cancer, and there was no history of colon cancer in his family.

Dr. Lutz soon had surgery to remove the cancer, and upon completion of follow up chemotherapy he had a CT scan to provide a baseline for future monitoring.  Unfortunately, the CT scan showed a mass in his liver.

Since the CT couldn’t determine whether the mass was malignant, a second surgery was considered – but it would be risky because of the size of the mass, the high likelihood of spreading if it was cancerous, and his weakened immune system.

When Dr. Lutz’s colleague, bioengineering associate professor Mike Averkiou, learned of the newly discovered mass, he immediately offered to use contrast-enhanced ultrasound (CEUS) imaging to help chart the course ahead.

Like contrast-enhanced CT and MRI scans, the most common imaging methods used today for cancer detection, CEUS shows a tumor’s size and location. However, CEUS also provides real-time quantifiable blood flow information – which are not provided by CT or MRI.

“CEUS not only gives us complementary information to traditional CT/MRI scans, but it’s also less expensive, it can be easily done at a patient’s bedside, it doesn’t expose patients to radiation, and it may be repeated as often as necessary,” according to Dr. Averkiou.

Unfortunately, CEUS showed blood activity consistent with a metastasis, which was confirmed by biopsy.  However, genetic testing showed that Dr. Lutz  was a good candidate for immunotherapy which, unlike surgery, would likely work on metastases we can’t see.

As Dr. Lutz received immunotherapy, his progress was monitored by both CT and CEUS.  Although initial scans showed that the tumor did not appear to be shrinking, CEUS also showed that blood flow into the tumor was considerably reduced – suggesting the tumor was regressing even though its size was stable.   With this information in hand, surgeons removed the baseball-sized tumor and determined it was “totally dead,” according to Dr. Averkiou.

Today, Dr. Lutz is cancer-free and as a precaution, he is routinely monitored by CEUS every 3-4 months.

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