Cancer breakthrough as new technique reveals how far it has spread in the body AND spares healthy tissue is unveiled
Method reveals how far cancer has spread in lymph nodes and could save patients from unnecessary op
Flourescent tool so sensitive it can detect cancer sites measuring just millimetres across
14:48 GMT, 11 January 2013
16:05 GMT, 11 January 2013
A ground-breaking technique that reveals just how far cancer has spread in the lymph nodes has been developed by scientists.
The method, which uses flourescent molecules, will allow surgeons to identify which lymph nodes are cancerous so that they can save healthy tissue. The lymph nodes play a vital function in helping the body to recognise and fight germs.
Study leader Dr Quyen Nguyen, from the University of California, San Diego, said: 'In the future, surgeons will be better
able to detect and stage cancer that has spread to the patient’s lymph
nodes using these molecules.'
The technique will save cancer patients from undergoing unnecessary surgery
Lymph nodes, located throughout the body, serve as filters that contain immune cells to fight infection and clean the blood.
When cancer cells break away from a tumour anywhere in the body, the cells can travel through the lymph system and hide in these tiny organs. Surgeons remove the nodes to determine if and how far a cancer has spread.
However, human nodes, only half a centimetre in size, are difficult to discern among the surrounding tissue during surgery.
The lymphatic system, as illustrated in green, aids the immune system in removing and destroying waste, pathogens, toxins, and cancer cells
Even when surgeons are able to map the location of the nodes, there is no current technique that indicates whether or not the lymph nodes contain cancer, requiring removal of more lymph nodes than is necessary.
But the new technique is so sensitive it can detect cancer sites measuring just millimetres across.
'With molecular-targeted imaging, surgeons can avoid unnecessary removal of healthy lymph nodes which is better long-term for patients,' said Dr Nguyen.
She added that the tool enhanced a surgeon's visual field to such an extent that 'no tumour is left behind.'
The fluorescently labeled molecules, known as ratiometric activatable cell-penetrating peptides (RACPP), are injectable.
When used in mouse models, surgeons could see where the cancer had spread with high sensitivity even when the sites were only a few millimetres in size.
At present doctors can only locate where the lymph nodes without finding out if they are cancerous. Current methods for managing prostate cancer involve removing all susceptible lymph nodes before discovering how far the cancer has spread.
The study will be published in the journal Cancer Research.