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Use of Ultrasound Expands Across Surgical Specialties

Ultrasound, a technology that was once mainly in the purview of radiologists, is becoming an integral part of the surgeon’s toolbox.

Across specialties, an increasing number of surgeons are incorporating ultrasound into their practices, whether in the office or in the operating room, especially as procedures become less invasive.

The once-cumbersome machines have gotten smaller over the past three decades, the technology has improved dramatically, and – compared with some other types of imaging – ultrasound is more cost-effective and affordable, experts say.


Dr. Heidi Frankel

 

"It’s a technology that I think is going to expand in use," said Dr. Jay K. Harness, an early adopter of ultrasound in breast surgery and coauthor of the textbook "Ultrasound in Surgical Practice." "I started using it in the 1990s, and it’s like we’ve gone from analog TV to digital."

Dr. Heidi Frankel, chair of American College of Surgeons’ (ACS) National Ultrasound Faculty, compared the developments in use of ultrasound in surgery to laparoscopy.

"Ultimately, the patients and the market pushed the need for it," said Dr. Frankel, professor of surgery at University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center, Baltimore. "Surgeons who didn’t do it had to learn to do it, and it became part of surgical training. I suspect the same thing is going to happen with ultrasound."

And while training and certification requirements vary widely, the surgeons currently using ultrasound predict that guidelines may ultimately become somewhat standardized within and across specialties.

Breast Surgery

Dr. Harness, who is also a member of the ACS National Ultrasound Faculty and the past-president of the American Society of Breast Surgeons (ASBS), was among the first to incorporate ultrasound into his practice. Today, he said, "for the contemporary breast surgeon, [ultrasound] is a fundamental tool ... Ultrasound is our stethoscope."

In breast surgery, ultrasound is an adjunctive tool for the physical exam, said Dr. Harness. It is used for diagnostic biopsy, and it can speed up the diagnostic process. Ultrasound also is used in the operating room, notably for procedures such as lumpectomies. And finally, ultrasound can help guide the placement of partial breast brachyradiation therapy devices.

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