Patients in Thunder Bay have a new and more effective way of getting a prostate cancer biopsy – and it’s an Ontario first north of Toronto.
Diagnostic imaging helps doctors identify tumours in the body including the prostate. But those images can only tell doctors so much. A biopsy is needed to first confirm the tumour is indeed cancerous. That biopsy also determines the type of cancer (there are many different types of prostate cancer, for example), what stage it is, how aggressive it might be, and so on.
However, traditional biopsy for prostate cancer is difficult for several reasons including the fact that the prostate is relatively deep in the body. This makes guiding the needle directly to the tumour a challenge.
“We’ve had patients who get biopsy after biopsy, and they are all negative,” said Dr. Walid Shahrour, a urologist at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre. “But that’s because traditional biopsy methods keep missing the tumour.”
Each time the tumour is missed, another biopsy has to be ordered. That adds to patient discomfort and anxiety, increases the chance of complications, and delays treatment if treatment is needed.
Dr. Shahrour introduced a new technique for patients in Northwestern Ontario called MRI/Ultrasound Fusion to ensure the biopsy needle reaches the tumour the first time. As the name suggests, this technique uses two different types of imaging. First, the patient has an MRI to target the tumour, pinpointing its size, shape, and location in the prostate. Then, doctors use an ultrasound to guide the needle. The ultrasound image is synched with the MRI image using special software so that the doctor knows exactly where the needle is in relation to the tumour at all times.
Dr. Shahrour compared the new technique to the game Battleship. With the traditional biopsy technique, you are blindly trying to find the right location. But with MRI/Ultrasound Fusion, doctors can “cheat” to find its exact location.
“It’s like saying, ‘M-8’ and bam! we’ve got the cancer,” Dr. Shahrour said. “I don’t have to go blindly. I’m going directly to the tumour. That’s a big game-changer.”
That game-changer is a first in Northern Ontario.
“I was in a meeting with urologists across Ontario, and some of them in Toronto were talking about MRI-targeted biopsy,” said Dr. Shahrour. “I said, ‘Oh, we’ve been doing that in Thunder Bay since November (2020).’ And they said, ‘What?’ They were so surprised.”
The new technique could be adapted for other types of biopsies including liver and kidney tumours, Dr. Shahrour said.
This is just one of several cutting-edge techniques coming to Thunder Bay, thanks to the team of urologists at our Hospital.
“These are the things we need to be proud of,” Dr. Shahrour said. “The people in the North – we deserve the best care possible, as good as anywhere else in the province.”
You can help! Your donation to the Urology Fund will support more treatments, diagnostics, and research throughout Northwestern Ontario. Right now, your donation is worth twice as much because the two Thunder Bay Canadian Tire locations have teamed up to match your gift up to $25,000.
Support more Thunder Bay firsts at healthsciencesfoundation.ca/doublemygift or call the Donation Centre at (807) 345-4673.