A diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, like the one Luciano Pavarotti received in 2006, is tant amount to a death sentence. Though uncommon, pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death, due in part to the lack of methods to detect abnormal growth early in the hard-to-reach CK, complication-pronepancreas. A new, noninvasive technique may improve this bleak outlook by examining initial, cancer-related changes at the molecular level without disturbing the pancreas.
The pilot study, published in Clinical Cancer Research in August, relies on the “field effect,”or the idea that tumors cause subtle changes in nearby cells. The changes aren’t well understood, but may be related to precancerous mutations ordisorder in cell architecture, according to Vadim Backman, a biomedical engineer at Northwestern University who developed the technology in the study. With two novel light sources and detectors, Backman’s team measured how light back scatters off tissue from the duodenum, the portion of the small intestine next to the pancreas. Even though the cells looked healthy under a microscope, tissue from people with pancreatic cancer, including treatable early-stage tumors, scattered light differently. Though five years from application, the technology could lead to early diagnosis—and hope—for thousands at risk CK. Furthermore, understanding the field effect may help unlock the mysteries of carcinogenesis. The study is admittedly preliminary, but according to the study’s lead clinician, Randall Brandof the University of Pittsburgh, “It’s at least a positive step in a long climb.”