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Cancer detecting dye could ‘save many lives’

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Cancer detecting dye could ‘save many lives’

A FLUORESCENT dye that pinpoints the tiniest sign of cancer when sprayed onto the oesophagus (the food pipe) could detect the disease earlier - potentially saving many lives, Cambridge scientists have discovered.

Oesophageal cancer is the ninth most common cancer in the UK. Around 8,000 people a year are diagnosed with it.

The number of men diagnosed with it has risen by more than 50 per cent in a generation.

The research, conducted at the Medical Research Council Cell Unit in Cambridge, in collaboration with Cancer Research UK’s Cambridge Research Institute, shows when sprayed onto the oesophagus the dye sticks to normal, healthy, cells but not to cancer cells or those in the early stages of turning cancerous. This gives an early warning of where the cancer is developing and can spare patients radical surgery.

At this point the cancer can be treated with radiofrequency ablation – an electrical current applied to the affected area to kill the cancer cells.

Dr Rebecca Fitzgerald, lead author based at the MRC Cancer Cell Unit in Cambridge, said: “Current methods to screen for oesophageal cancer are controversial – they are costly, uncomfortable for the patient and are not completely accurate. Our technique highlights the exact position of a developing oesophageal cancer, and how advanced it is, giving a more accurate picture.”

Professor Kevin Brindle, a researcher at Cancer Research UK’s Cambridge Research Institute, said: “The benefit of using this dye is that it is specific, relatively cheap and is found in our normal diets so unlikely to cause any unwanted effects at the levels we use. We now need to test our technique in newly diagnosed patients.”


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