Though a relatively rare one, Oesophageal Cancer is believed to cause 5% of the cancer deaths around the world, according to Cancer Research UK. Recently deceased author Christopher Hitchens was diagnosed this disease, dying a year and a half later. He was a heavy drinker and smoker, a condition highly linked to the risk of this cancer, but not the only one. People with Barrett’s Oesophagus, a disorder caused by the stomach acid, also have a high risk of getting it. The problem is that it is very difficult to detect Oesophageal cancer at an early stage, and many times the measures taken are too invasive.
At least until now, when scientists have discovered that spraying a “wheat germ agglutinin” into the oesophagus shows the cancer cells even when at a preliminary stage. It allows doctors to be much more precise about the diagnosis and therefore about the measures that should be taken.
“Current methods to screen for oesophageal cancer are controversial – they are costly, uncomfortable for the patient and are not completely accurate,” says Dr. Rebecca C. Fitzgerald, from Medical Research Council Cancer Cell Unit in Cambridge, UK, and lead researcher of the study. “Our technique highlights the exact position of a developing oesophageal cancer, and how advanced it is, giving a more accurate picture.”
Another benefit of this procedure, as Dr. Fitzgerald’s colleague Kevin Brindle puts it, is that the dye used on the spraying “is specific, relatively cheap and is found in our normal diets so unlikely to cause any unwanted effects at the levels we use.”
The research was published online yesterday at the Nature Medicine Journal, and it is believed that this new technique could be applied on regular patients within 5 years.
Bird-Lieberman, E., Neves, A., Lao-Sirieix, P., O’Donovan, M., Novelli, M., Lovat, L., Eng, W., Mahal, L., Brindle, K., & Fitzgerald, R. (2012). Molecular imaging using fluorescent lectins permits rapid endoscopic identification of dysplasia in Barrett’s esophagus Nature Medicine DOI: 10.1038/nm.2616
Photo Credit: Hellerhoff