Objective: To assess stiffness in a human breast cancer implanted in mice using shear wave elastography (SWE) during tumour growth and to correlate the results with pathology.
Methods: Local ethics committee for animal research approval was obtained. A human invasive ductal carcinoma was implanted subcutaneously in 24 athymic nude female mice. Ultrasound was longitudinally performed in 22 tumours, every 1-2 weeks. Maximum diameter and mean stiffness were collected. Seven tumours were measured both in vivo and ex vivo. Tumours of different sizes were removed for pathological analysis on which the percentages of viable cellular tissue, fibrosis and necrosis were measured.
Results: A total of 63 SWE measurements were performed. Stiffness increased during tumour growth with an excellent correlation with size (r = 0.94, P < 0.0001). No differences were found between the values of stiffness in vivo and ex vivo (P = 0.81). There was a significant correlation between elasticity and fibrosis (r = 0.83, P < 0.0001), a negative correlation with necrosis (r = -0.76, p = 0.0004) but no significant correlation with cellular tissue (r = 0.40, p = 0.1).
Conclusion: Fibrosis plays an important role in stiffness as measured by SWE, whereas necrosis is correlated with softness.
Key points: • In a breast cancer model, ultrasound tumour stiffness is correlated with size. • Stiffness changes with tumour growth are correlated with pathological changes. • Stiffness is very well correlated with proportion of tumour fibrosis. • Stiffness is inversely correlated with proportion of tumour necrosis. • Tumour stiffness measurements are similar in vivo and ex vivo.