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Oral Pill Helps Detect Cancer By Lighting Up Tumors

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Researchers developed an oral pill that could help detect cancerous tumors by lighting them up. The findings can help improve imaging techniques in cancer detection.

In recent years, there has been a lot of debate and controversy about breast cancer screenings especially about the age when screening is advisable. For some, early screenings can be lifesaving as it can potentially detect the disease early and help patients get the treatments needed. However, it can also produce false positives that can lead to aggressive but unnecessary treatments for patients who don't really need them.

"We don't know how to select the right patients to treat. Our work could help change that," said Greg Thurber, Ph.D. The research was presented at the American Chemical Society's 251st National Meeting & Exposition in San Diego, California.

Led by Thurber, a team of scientists from the University of Michigan created an oral pill that has an imaging agent that binds selectively to cancer cells or to the blood vessels that are exclusive to tumors. When the imaging agent attaches to its target, the dye helps the tumors glow under near-infrared light.

But at the near-infrared light wavelength, detection of the glowing tumors can only be possible at one to two centimeters deep. According to Thurber, the breast tissue's elasticity in conjunction and ultrasound can help the latter spot most of the cancerous tumors.

In the mice study, about 50 to 60 percent of the imaging agents were absorbed into the bloodstream with the proper formulation. The imaging agent also attached selectively to cancer cells and the resulting image had little background noise, which means the glowing tumor was more distinct compared to the signals of nearby tissue.

For breast cancer detection, X-rays are used in latest screening standards. These images provide information on the lump's size and location; however, they don't distinguish between benign and malignant tumors. A biopsy is needed to find out if the lump is cancerous and the procedure involves a surgery. Unfortunately, biopsies are not always 100 percent conclusive.

When doctors find suspicious growths, they often recommend getting treatment/s that range from surgery to chemotherapy. These procedures take months and come with severe side effects. The new technique can help doctors rule out the patients who don't need aggressive treatments.

Photo: Gisela Giardino | Flickr

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