Precise. Quick. Safe. This is what the latest in cancer technology has to offer and it’s just the size of a pencil.

Scientists and engineers from the University of Texas in Austin developed the MassSpec Pen, that can detect cancerous cells in tissues within seconds thereby guiding surgeons in looking for and eliminating all the cancer during surgery.

Presently, it takes days to determine if all cells have been removed during surgery. Missing out on some of the cancerous cells could mean recurrence, or at the least, going through another surgery to clean the affected area.

The study published in Science Translational Medicine, found the pen can identify cancerous tissue within 10 seconds during surgery.

Two hundred fifty six (256) cancer patients were involved in the study to test the MassSpec Pen, and it showed an accuracy of 96 percent.

Other than helping surgeons clean out cancerous cells until they are close to certain everything has been removed, it aids in decision making regarding which tissues can be left in the patient’s body.

Quick analysis

A miniature mass spectrometer is built into the stylus and once the pen touches cancerous tissues, it will draw up molecules that is analyzed. It is able to identify cancerous cells through distinct molecules called metabolites, which are unique to each type of cancer, and along with other biomarkers serve as fingerprints.

The MassSpec Pen can pinpoint any residual cancer cells in seconds and a monitor will read out either “normal” or “cancer.”

James Saliburk, head of endocrine surgery at Baylor college of Medicine, who collaborated on the project, said the new tool can offer precise, quicker and safer surgery. The technology allowed doctors to be more precise in which tissues to remove and what to leave behind.

Meanwhile, the Philippines is not lagging behind in terms of state-of-the-art technology in cancer treatment. The Linear Accelerator (LINAC) is a radiation therapy machine that uses focused radiation to kill cancer cells.

Minimizing damage

Only three hospitals have this particular equipment, and the latest to offer it is the ManilaMed through its Cancer Care Center.

What makes the medical LINAC machine unique is its ability to zero in on a tumor and minimize damage to healthy cells surrounding it.

Says head Medical Physicist Raquel Santecera, “With the new LINAC, accuracies in terms of hitting the tumor is now reckoned in millimeters.”

Dr Vicente Hizon, chief of radiation oncology, explains the most advanced feature of the LINAC - the latest in cancer technology in the country today - is Volumetric Modulated Arc Therapy (VMAT).

He explained that while in older LINACs, it has to move from angle to angle and the delivery of radiation is stopped so that the beam can conform to the two-dimensional shape of the tumor from the new perspective, the model in their hospital can adjust the beam on the fly while continually delivering radiation.

“Accuracy in position and the accuracy of the dose are both very much improved. Because of this, survival, local tumor control and the side effects produced by the radiation treatment are better,” the radiation oncologist said.

While surgery is an accepted modality in cancer treatment, in many cases radiation is a less drastic and less invasive option.

Regardless, the hospital’s Cancer Care Center offers different modalities and in patients and their families are guided closely in deciding which option to go with after a thorough discussion with a team of cancer care specialists. MIMS

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