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Thursday, 6 September, 2001, 00:28 GMT 01:28 UK
Cancer 'highway' scanned by doctors
Doctors can scan for signs that cancer has spread
A way of predicting the spread of a common form of cancer could help doctors plan the operation most likely to prevent its return.

Cancer of the oesophagus - the tube connecting the stomach with the upper throat - affects approximately 7,000 people in the UK every year. Radical surgery is often needed to try to halt its spread.

The lymphatic system is a network of glands which transports fluid and cells involved in the immune defence around the body, but is the route by which cancer cells break off the main tumour and spread around the body.

This spread makes the cancer much harder to treat, and surgeons often remove parts of the lymphatic system near the tumour to try to stop this happening.

Dying technique

Researchers at the University of Newcastle found that by adding a radioactive dye to the immune cells carried in the lymph systems, they can watch and map the flow in the vessels using a scanner.

Hopefully, our research will predict the spread of cancer much more accurately

Professor Michael Griffin, University of Newcastle
Professor Michael Griffin said: "We always believed that cancer cells would flow in the same direction of the dye and radioactive tracer."

This means that doctors can predict where the cancerous cells will pop up next, and remove the right bits of the lymph system.

To test the theory, they have tested each lymph node removed to check whether it ties in with their predictions.

They found they have been correct on 19 out of every 20 occasions.

This 95% accuracy means that each patient's operation can be tailored to maximise the chances of the cancer staying away.

Professor Griffin said: "Hopefully, our research will predict the spread of cancer much more accurately, allowing us to remove the affected lymph glands while leaving those that are free of cancer alone."

See also:

17 Mar 00 | C-D
Oesophageal cancer
26 Feb 01 | Health
Gene therapy 'prevents cancer'
22 Mar 01 | Health
Drugs 'may prevent throat cancer'
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