Diagnosing Cancer Just Got Easierby Lindsey Kay, MD | February 24, 2008
Biopsies are important in the detection of cancerous and precancerous lesions, but they are painful, require anesthesia, and can leave scars. A new tool may remove the needles and blades involved, replacing them with a noninvasive, handheld scanner. A researcher at Queensland University of Technology developed the “virtual biopsy” tool. It is a small device, about the size of a credit card, which is simply waved over a suspicious lesion. The tool uses bioimpedance spectroscopy to detect changes in the tissue.
Bioimpedance spectroscopy is the same technology used at the gym to determine the percentage of lean mass and fat in your body. Small electrical currents are sent through the body, reacting differently depending upon the composition of the underlying tissue. Computers interpret these currents and use it to provide information about the what’s going on beneath the skin.
The new device detects changes at the cellular level. The developer of the device says it can detect changes within cells, in their membranes, and in the tissue surrounding them. Because cancer cells look different and are composed of different material than healthy cells, predictable patterns can be developed and used to predict if a lesion is cancerous, before a biopsy is performed.
This may turn out to be a useful screening tool in dermatology, gynecology and general practice offices, where numerous skin and cervical biopsies are performed in an effort to detect and treat cancerous lesion. Patients and physicians will both appreciate the possibility of avoiding unnecessary biopsies and the risks involved. The device also offers the chance of having immediate results, unlike traditional biopsies, which take two to three days to finalize.
Much more research is needed to determine the true effectiveness of the virtual biopsy tool, and it seems likely that its best bet for clinical use is as a screening tool, allowing doctors to biopsy only lesions that are reported as suspicious by the device. The creator believes that further development may lead to its use in outpatient healthcare centers on a regular basis.
Queensland University of Technology. Virtual biopsy cuts out need for diagnostic surgery. QUT Newspaper, 2008.
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