Elastography is a medical imaging modality that maps the elastic properties and stiffness of soft tissue. The main idea is that whether the tissue is hard or soft will give diagnostic information about the presence or status of disease. For example, cancerous tumors will often be harder than the surrounding tissue, and diseased livers are stiffer than healthy ones.
Elastography is used for the investigation of many disease conditions in many organs. It can be used for additional diagnostic information compared to a mere anatomical image, and it can be used to guide biopsies or replace them entirely. Biopsies are invasive and painful, presenting a risk of hemorrhage or infection, whereas elastography is completely noninvasive.
Naturally, elastography sees use for organs and diseases where manual palpation was already widespread. Elastography is used for detection and diagnosis of breast, thyroid, prostate, musculoskeletal imaging, and can determine the mechanical properties and state of muscles and tendons. Breast elastography is being used to better characterize breast lesions. Published studies have shown that it improved specificity of B mode ultrasound.
Elastography is used to investigate disease in the liver. Liver stiffness is usually indicative of fibrosis or steatosis, which are in turn indicative of numerous disease conditions, including cirrhosis and hepatitis. Elastography is particularly advantageous in this case because when fibrosis is diffuse, a biopsy can easily miss sampling the diseased tissue, which results in a false negative misdiagnosis.
Because elastography does not have the same limitations as manual palpation, it is being investigated in some areas for which there is no history of diagnosis with manual palpation. For example, magnetic resonance elastography is capable of assessing the stiffness of the brain, and there is a growing body of scientific literature on elastography in healthy and diseased brains.