3-D scans prove more effective on fetuses

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 May, 2006, 12:00am

Using an enhanced three-dimensional ultrasound scanner increases the chances of detecting hidden abnormalities in unborn children by between 5 and 10 per cent, say doctors at the University of Hong Kong.

Doctors from the university's obstetrics and gynaecology department have been using an enhanced 3-D imaging machine - the only one available in Hong Kong since 2004 - that is able to examine fetuses in even higher resolution and from more angles than a conventional ultrasound scanner.

Between July 2004 and February last year, the enhanced scanner had been used in 35 cases of suspected abnormal development detected by traditional ultrasound methods and confirmed abnormalities in 11, the doctors said in a study published in the international journal, Ultrasound in Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

Traditional 2-D ultrasound scans are difficult to interpret. The machines do not always detect cleft palates and heart defects and fail to indicate the severity of spinal abnormalities, said Leung Kwok-yin, a co-author of the study and an honorary associate professor of obstetrics and gynaecology.

'The traditional ultrasound is still a simpler way [of examination] and is quite enough for women with normal fetuses,' Dr Leung said yesterday. 'The new technology is needed when uncertainties about the health of the fetuses arise.'

The university's Queen Mary Hospital is the only hospital in Hong Kong providing the extended 3-D imaging.

Three per cent of newborns in the city suffer at least one major congenital abnormality.

Based on cases at the hospital, Dr Leung estimated that the new machine improved the chances of doctors detecting fetal developmental problems by 5 to 10 per cent.

The enhanced ultrasound scanner detected six cleft palates, two congenital heart defects, two spinal defects and a brain abnormality which conventional ultrasound scans had been unable to confirm.