Cutting out cancer

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Timothy Doyle, assistant physics professor at Utah Valley University, and eight undergraduate students are moving forward with their research using ultrasound imaging to detect breast cancer in the operating room.


After a long career in rocket science, Doyle began applying ultrasound to breast cancer detection in 1995.


“It’s like a virtual biopsy,” Doyle said. “Our method will actually tell the doctor what type of tissue they’re looking at. It’s analytical imaging.”


Doyle’s wife is a survivor of breast cancer. According to the Utah Department of Health, breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death in Utah women.


In partnership with the Huntsman Cancer Institute and breast cancer surgeon Dr. Leigh Neumayer, Doyle and his research aides are testing an ultrasound imaging method that could be used during surgery to map tissue within minutes of removal whether it is normal or cancerous.


Doyle explained that when women undergo breast conservation surgery, known as a lumpectomy, it is important for the surgeon to find clear margins of the tumor. According to Doyle, 30 to 50 percent of breast cancer patients have to return for a second surgery to ensure accurate margins.

With the development of Doyle’s method, the tissue margins could be completely cleared without another visit to the operating room.


“If it’s not free of cancer, the odds that the cancer will reoccur in that breast goes way up, so they have to make sure they get all the cancer out,” Doyle said.


In the future, the ultrasound mapping method has the potential for use in other forms of soft-tissue cancer, such as skin cancer, oral cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer and ovarian cancer.

“We’ve all been affected by cancer in one way or another,” said Andrew Chappell, one of Doyle’s research aides. “My dad had skin cancer when he was 28. It’d be really easy using the ultrasound device to check moles.


Kalina Clegg, an exercise science major at UVU, was diagnosed on May 31 with stage four ovarian cancer. One week later, Clegg underwent a laparotomy, in which surgeons removed her left ovary, half of her right ovary, and three large tumors.


A former UVU cross country and track athlete, Clegg feels that the imaging technology being developed by Doyle and his team will be highly useful in the future.

“There’s some [cancer] spots that the doctor didn’t get when I was in the operating room because they didn’t see them,” Clegg said. “If they had that technology they probably would have been able to get all of it out.”


After her pathology results came back, doctors found that the type of ovarian cancer Clegg has is much more aggressive than initially thought. They are now planning a full hysterectomy in October.

Though Clegg walked with her graduating class in April, she returned to UVU over the summer to finish a few courses required for her degree.

“Luckily, I’ve still been able to go to class,” Clegg said. “But I had to drop one of my fall classes because I don’t think I’ll be well enough to go to school. I’ve had to look at online options.”

Clegg undergoes weekly chemotherapy treatments at the Huntsman Cancer Institute and finds Doyle’s research promising. Though the ultrasound imaging method is still in development, Doyle hopes that the technology will be in the hands of surgeons within the next 10 years.


The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 1.6 million new cases of cancer are expected to be diagnosed this year.


By Mallory Black
Assistant News Editor

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