TOURS, France — Going in for a cancer screening can be an unsettling and uncomfortable experience, but scientists have created one method that’s as simple as singing the alphabet, literally. The new “quick and easy” thyroid cancer test requires patients to sing while undergoing an ultrasound scan.
Vibrations produced by a patient’s voice can help locate tumors in the thyroid, a small butterfly shaped gland in their necks, say scientists. Typically, a fine needle is used to confirm whether a lump on the thyroid is potentially deadly. Unfortunately, this method only detects around five per cent of cancers, the researchers say.
Now, researchers at Université de Tours in France have put forward this groundbreaking needle-free-method called vocal passive elastography, or V-PE. The process does not require any specialist equipment and only needs about a second to collect enough data. Analyzing the data, the longest step, can be done automatically, using a computer program.
“Developing noninvasive methods would reduce the stress of patients during their medical exams,” explains co-author and doctoral student Steve Beuve in a statement, per SWNS. “Having to sing during a medical exam can perhaps help release some of the nervous tension even more.”
How singing can indicate the presence of a cancerous tumor
When a person sings, vibrations from their voice create what’s known as shear waves in the tissue near the vocal tract. If a tumor is present, the surrounding tissue stiffens, causing the shear waves to accelerate. An ultrasound was used to measure the speed of these waves and determine the elasticity of the thyroid tissue.
“The propagation of shear waves gives us information about mechanical properties of soft tissues,” says Beuve.
Volunteers were asked to maintain an “eeee” sound at 150 hertz, approximately the frequency of the note D3. This allows the researchers to identify any unusually stiff areas where a tumor is present.
“A key benefit of V-PE is how quick and easy it is,” explains Beuve. “It requires no specialized or complex equipment added to the ultrasound scanner and only needs about one second of data acquisition to complete.”
A computer program which automatically analyzes the data was developed by the researchers. “We want to cooperate with physicians to propose protocols to verify the relevance of elasticity as a biomarker of pathogens,” says Beuve. His team is now hoping to test V-PE on other areas near the vocal tract such as the brain and improving the user friendliness of their computer interface.
Thyroid cancer in the United States
The American Cancer Society estimates there were nearly 52,890 new cases of thyroid cancer in 2020 (12,720 in men and 40,170 in women). Although far more women are diagnosed, the number of deaths is fairly close between genders: 1,040 men and 1,140 women. Symptoms include swollen glands in the neck, a sore throat and difficulty swallowing
Around nine in ten people are alive and kicking five years after being diagnosed with thyroid cancer, which typically occurs at a younger age. It is usually treatable and in many cases can be cured completely, although one in four patients are later diagnosed with cancer in another part of the body.
The findings were published in the journal Applied Physics Letters.
SWNS writer Tom Campbell contributed to this report.