Diagnosing cancer is never easy, and — with a few exceptions — testing is rarely done in the absence of symptoms. A new scientific breakthrough could make cancer screening easy, at a stage when treatment is still fairly easy too.
Professor Vadim Backman and his team at Northwestern University have discovered that cells in people developing cancer - even when far from tumor sites - display incredibly tiny changes that will allow scientists to test for lung, colon and pancreatic cancer more easily. Backman thinks this discovery could not only lead to earlier diagnoses but early screening. He says:
These changes occur not only in cancer cells but in cells far from the tumor site and are the same in at least three different types of cancer. Given its ability to detect these changes, PWS could be used in the early screening of a variety of cancers.
Like with a typical a DNA test, scientists expect that doctors concerned that their patients could have lung cancer could use buccal swabs (those done in the cheek) to look for abnormalities in the nanoarchitecture of cells with the use of partial wave spectroscopy (PWS).
The PWS technology, developed by Backman and his team, looks at the level of disorder in the nanoarchitecture of cells to determine the level and types of abnormality present. Rather than having to test tumors for cancer, they were able to swab cheeks to find abnormalities consistent with lung cancer; rectums to find abnormalities consistent with colon cancer; and the duodenum (which is obviously more invasive) to find abnormalities consistent with pancreatic cancer. Other scientists agree that if this technique proves effective, it will be a great leap forward in the ability of doctors to perform regular and minimally-invasive cancer screenings.
[Image via NOAA]