New Technology Color Codes Breast Cancer.
Experiment Tool Could Make Biopsy Thing of the Past
Sept. 26, 2002 -- Researchers in Australia are using experimental imaging technology to color code aggressive breast cancers in hopes of eliminating biopsies and reducing the number of unnecessary breast cancer surgeries.
The new technique called MRS-SCS (magnetic resonance spectroscopy plus statistical classification strategy) actually analyzes thousands of chemical components of cancer cells. Each chemical has a different, identifiable place on the spectrum, a sort of color-coded chemical signature.
"Cancer cells progress from early to late state, non-aggressive to aggressive," says Cynthia Lean, PhD, scientific director of the Institute for Magnetic Resonance Research. "At each stage the chemical color-coded signature is different, so the MRS-SCS analysis can spot an aggressive cancer cell as well as a benign cell," she says.
She presented the latest findings on MRS-SCS - which is not yet ready for wide use - at the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research meeting in Orlando.
While at this point MRS-SCS is being used to analyze breast cancer cells that have been removed by needle biopsy, "we hope to someday be able to conduct MRS analysis while the cell is still in the woman's breast," she says.
As she envisions it, a woman would be rolled into the MR machine and then MRS-SCS would analyze the cells in her breast. Cancer cells would be identified and "we would even have a prognosis." And all of this would be done without ever piercing the skin.
If that sounds like Star Trek medicine, it sounds that way to Kenneth A. Bertram, MD, PhD, too. But he says that he is ready for it. Bertram - also a Colonel in the US Army Medical Corps - is the director of Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs and is a medical oncologist.
"The physics guys tell us this is possible and all of us are interested in better, less invasive tests," Bertram tells WebMD. But for now, he says that he would be happy if MRS-SCS could simply reduce the rate of unnecessary open biopsies, which are surgical biopsies that are used when needle biopsy is inconclusive.
"Currently after a suspicious lump is located by physical examination or mammography, the next step is needle biopsy," says Lean. "But about 40% of these procedures are inconclusive. The next step is an open biopsy in which tissue is surgically removed." Avoiding that surgical step is the first goal for MRS-SCS.
So far Lean and her colleagues have used MRS-SCS only to analyze cells that have already been analyzed by a pathologist. They used this approach to confirm the efficacy of MRS-SCS. After analyzing 400 specimens from women enrolled in three separate breast cancer studies they found that MRS-SCS could correctly diagnose cancer in 94% of the cases. Moreover, she says the technique can accurately predict if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes in 96% of specimens.
Lean says that she and her team will begin clinical trials of MRS-SCS later this year, but she said it will be several years - and only after a number of successful trials - before the technique is widely available.