Listening to the Sounds of Cancer

Sound Technique May Help Quickly Spot the Spread of Melanoma Cancer

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on October 20, 2006
From the WebMD Archives

Oct. 20, 2006 -- Researchers may have figured out how to hear melanoma cancer cells as they spread through the blood.

If so, it might one day be possible to quickly screen people's blood for the telltale sounds of spreading melanoma cells, say scientists from the University of Missouri-Columbia, writing in Optics Letters.

Researchers included biological engineering student Ryan Weight and John Viator, PhD, assistant professor in the university's biological engineering and dermatology departments.

Deadly Cancer

Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancerskin cancer.

The American Cancer Society predicts more than 62,000 new melanomas and about 7,900 deaths from melanoma in the U.S. this year.

"Our method can help doctors plan treatment to battle the spread of the disease," Viator says in a news release from the journal's publisher, the Optical Society of America.

If the technique succeeds, "it could take just 30 minutes to find out if there are any circulating cancer cells," Viator says.

Listening to Cancer

For their experiment, Weight, Viator, and colleagues took blood samples from a 29-year-old white man with melanoma that had spread.


The scientists aimed a laser at the blood sample to make any melanin in the blood produce sound energy.

"The only reason there could be melanin in the human blood is that there would be melanoma cells," Viator explains.

The researchers needed an amplifier to hear the melanin. But it took only 10 melanoma cells for them to pick up the sound.

"This work presents an innovative approach to solving a very complex, poorly understood area of medicine," the scientists write.

More work lies ahead, including larger studies and tests to see if similar sound strategies spot other cancers as they spread.

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SOURCES: Dale, P. Optics Letters, Oct. 15, 2006; vol 31: pp 2998-3000. American Cancer Society: "What Are the Key Statistics About Melanoma?" News release, Optical Society of America.
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