An encouraging piece in yesterday’s Times:
A “highlighter pen”could transform the treatment of prostate cancer as scientists at Imperial College London develop a probe that generates “heat maps” of tumours.
The method should make surgery more accurate, improving the odds of all the cancer being removed and sparing patients distressing side-effects.
Dan Elson, a professor of surgical imaging and the lead researcher, said: “To the naked eye cancerous tissue is virtually impossible to distinguish from healthy tissue, meaning surgeons are often left with difficult and risky decisions on how much to remove.
“Our research aims to give surgeons the crucial information they need to guide decisions in the operating theatre, which we hope could one day transform the outlook for prostate cancer surgery by reducing side-effects and the likelihood the disease will return.”
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men with almost 48,000 cases diagnosed a year and 11,500 deaths. Treatment can include surgery to remove the prostate but, despite scans ahead of surgery and using endoscopic cameras, it is hard to tell where the diseased tissue starts and ends. This leads to cancerous tissue being left behind in up to 38 per cent of cases. Sometimes too much tissue is removed, leading to impotence and incontinence.
The new probe will be based on an existing device made by Buckinghamshire-based Lightpoint Medical. With this the patient is injected with a radioactive drug, or tracer, which has been formulated to home in on prostate cancer cells, guiding the surgeon’s knife towards the diseased cells.
The team at Imperial is developing algorithms that will form an image of the tumour. This heat map will be beamed to a screen in the operating theatre making it easier for the surgeon to see which tissue to remove. Professor Elson hopes to be ready to test the device on patients by 2022 and it could be in widespread use two years later. It could also be used on other cancers.
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