Lung and liver cyst detection with ultrasound

Echinococcosis is a disease caused by parasites, and can cause a range of symptoms that affect different parts of the body in the sufferer. It affects dogs and cats in many parts of the world, who may become hosts to the tapeworm through eating raw meat or being around farm or wild animals.

Using cattle and buffalo as experimental models in one study, scientists sought to use the data retrieved as an aid in the diagnosis of echinococcosis.

The presence of cysts in these animals was examined using two different techniques, ultrasound and radiography, in order to assess the suitability of each for such a purpose. A total of 45 female buffaloes and cattle were the subjects of this study, with an average age of 7 years. The full paper (with all the results) is titled ‘Comparison of radiography and ultrasonography in the detection of lung and liver cysts in cattle and buffaloes’ by Kumar A et al, Veterinary World, 2016 Oct:9(10):1113-1120, with the results looking at ultrasonography primarily focused on for the purposes of this article.

What they found

Ultrasound imaging both longitudinally, transversely and with and without colour Doppler enabled cavitary liver masses to be detected in individuals, which radiography was unable to do. These masses were described as ranging from anechoic (returning very few echoes – showing up as black) to hyperechoic (very reflective – showing up bright white). In addition, ultrasound imaging was shown to be better for detecting cysts within the liver when compared to radiography, whilst conversely the latter was better for detecting cysts in the lung. This is unsurprising, given what we know about the behaviour of ultrasound waves through fluid and through air. Indeed, where ultrasound is used to examine the lungs in humans, for example, the sonographer will turn off harmonics and will in fact look at the behaviour of ultrasound artefacts, as opposed to actually imaging within the lung itself (unless there is a large pleural effusion present) – scanning a healthy lung is an almost impossible task, given that almost all of the ultrasound energy is reflected back to the transducer at the soft tissue / air interface.

Furthermore, ultrasound imaging was not deemed to be the most suitable way to examine cysts within the lung, and consequently utilising a combination of both techniques would be of the greatest advantage to a practitioner wishing to assess cysts in these animals. This research also revealed a correlation between the presence of cysts in both the lung and liver, with over half of the subjects looked at presenting with both.

Whilst a combination of both ultrasound and radiography would be appropriate in the detection of liver and lung cysts, as ultrasound imaging was able to identify cysts in both regions, practitioners may wish to consider using ultrasonography when trying to assess the likelihood of cattle or buffalo suffering from echinococcosis.