Create Better Ways to Spot Cancer Cells

Cancer can be notoriously difficult to spot, so scientists are working to develop new techniques to better detect tumors in the body.

Such tools could potentially identify cancer cells more reliably and earlier than currently available methods, such as mammography, biopsies and magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI. Improved detection methods could help speed up treatment decisions and monitor whether a therapy is working.

Some cancer researchers are working with metal nanoparticles—tiny bits of matter that are 100,000 times smaller than the thickness of a sheet of paper—and sensitive magnetic fields to locate breast-cancer cells. The technique appears to be much more sensitive than current methods allow and eliminates fears of radiation from a mammogram. Other scientists are attempting to improve detection of melanoma skin cancers without taking painful biopsies that can leave unsightly scars.

Another research project, also involving nanoparticles, aims to identify the molecular “fingerprint” of cancer of the abdomen, which could reveal how invasive the cancer is and from what part of the body it may have originated.

Current cancer-detection methods have limitations. Some technologies, like mammography used for screening for breast cancer, can only detect cancerous tumors after they have grown to a certain size. With biopsies, in which samples of tissue are removed for study, only a portion of the sample is examined; it is too time consuming and expensive to look at the entire biopsy. And, because tissues are sampled randomly from suspicious regions, it is hit-or-miss whether the biopsies actually capture any cancerous cells that may be present. MRIs are more sensitive than mammography but are more expensive and have some limitations on image quality. Read more…



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