New technique tracks spread of oesophageal cancer


LONDON (Reuters Health) – British scientists claimed on Thursday to have developed an accurate new way of predicting oesophageal cancer metastasis without having to sample every lymph node.

The researchers, at the University of Newcastle, said that before undergoing surgery for removal of the tumour, each patient has blue dye and technetium 99-labelled colloid injected into the edges of the tumour, via a camera placed in the oesophagus.

During surgery, a medical physicist monitors the flow of radioactivity through the lymphatic system using a hand-held probe. At the end of the procedure, the research team measures the amounts of radiation and blue dye within each lymph node. This reveals the precise lymphatic pathways that were draining the tumour.

In a news release from the Cancer Research Campaign, the investigators said the technique "predicts with 95 percent accuracy which tissues should be removed by surgery and which can be left alone. This could allow doctors to individually tailor each patient's surgery to provide the best chance of cure."

The team noted that there are far too many lymph nodes–40 per patient–to test them all with immunohistochemistry. The new technique could allow physicians to narrow down the search to less than three lymph nodes, which could then be examined in greater detail.

Co-researcher Peter Lamb said: "We always believed that cancer cells would flow in the same direction as the dye and radioactive tracer, but to confirm this, we've been analysing each lymph node for the presence of cancer cells…We've looked at 40 people so far, and 95 percent of the time the results tied up, suggesting that our work will be of real use."

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