Thursday, March 21, 2013

Better imaging to improve cancer detection

One of the most important parts of clinical oncology is to find the cancer before it does any real harm to the body. Speedy diagnosis significantly improves the chances for survival, and for that, we need proper imaging tools. At the University of California in San Diego, scientists have found a better way to detect so-called sentinel lymph nodes, which are important in cancer metastasis. A novel, radioactive molecule was shown capable of improving the detection of the spread of a tumour throughout the body, indicating that our ways of cancer detection can be improved, thus promoting survival.

Sentinel lymph nodes
Drainage by the lymph nodes can clear tissues of immune cells, in order to keep them circulating throughout the body. In our body, we have a large network of lymph nodes so that all tissues are covered. Immune cells need the lymph nodes to keep up circulation, but this network can also be abused in the case of cancer. Cells that break loose from the original tumour can end up in the lymph nodes and use it to spread throughout the body. When a tumour spreads, we call it metastasis and it drastically reduces the chance of survival. A lymph node or a group of lymph nodes that is draining fluid from a tumour is called a sentinel lymph node, and it is important that they are discovered rapidly and surgically removed.

In order to cut away the lymph nodes that are at risk of aiding the spread of cancer, they first have to be detected. There are currently several products on the market to detect sentinel lymph nodes, but the scientists at the University of California in San Diego claim to have found a better method that is more effective. They showed that tilmanocept is better than conventional products in a large clinical trial, which means that it could rapidly find its way into the clinic.

According to the scientists, tilmanocept is just as accurate as other methods, but it finds the sentinel lymph nodes faster. In addition, it is easier to use and is cleared faster from the body. The compound is especially useful in case of breast cancer, although in theory other forms of cancer also spread by making use of lymph nodes.

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