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Posted on Monday, Dec 17, 2012

Researchers Look to Optical-Fiber as Early Detection Tool for Mesothelioma and Other Cancers

Diagnosing mesothelioma, an asbestos-caused cancer, in its earliest stages offers patients improved survival chances. Typically, when cancer is detected early it has not yet spread to anywhere else in the body, and the patient has more treatment options available.  Most often, however, a mesothelioma diagnosis is not made until symptoms appear and the disease has progressed to an advanced stage, leaving the patient with life-threatening complications.

That could change with an optical-fiber sensor currently being designed by researchers in Sydney that will help detect and diagnose cancers early.  According to a press release from Swinburne University of Technology, “This [tool] will enable a fast, accurate assessment of the tumour’s stage – and determine the best way to treat it.”

The sensor is built into a fiber, as thin as human hair, that sends light beams through both ends. When the sensor is vibrated against a particular tissue, the sensor nudges and withdraws from an area and the detected signals alternate between being either high or low.

“A tumour is stiffer than cells from a healthy area,” said PhD researcher and lead investigator Emma Carland. “So, the difference between the sensor’s signals tells you how stiff the tissue is – a diseased tissue, being firmer, will push back at the sensor with more force, resulting in a larger difference.”

These signals can alert the physician to the presence or absence of cancerous tumors without having to wait for laboratory analysis.

The researchers noted that due to the small size, flexible structure and fast transmission of signals, the sensors are ideal for medical procedures that explore small tissue regions, such as ear, nose, throat cavities and the colon. More research and development are required to determine its effectiveness.

Some studies have shown that among patients where mesothelioma is diagnosed early and treated aggressively, about half can expect a life expectancy of two years, and one-fifth will have a life expectancy of five years.  As a comparison, for patients whose mesothelioma is advanced, only five percent can expect to live another five years.

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Nancy Meredith is a blog and web content writer with more than 20 years of professional experience in the Information Technology industry. She has been writing about Mesothelioma for 4 years. Follow Nancy on Google+