Cheek swab for lung cancer: breakthrough in biomedical optics

Lung cancer news: Cheek swab for lung cancer and how smoking causes epigenetic changes.
Written by Boonsri Dickinson, Contributing Editor

Researchers now have a test that can test cheek cells and tell if a person has lung cancer. (Also see, breath test can detect cancer).

It turns out cancer can be detected far away from the site of the tumor. This is called field effect.

Looking for these nanoscale changes might be helpful in screening other types of cancers such as colon and pancreatic cancers as well.

Traditionally, the microscopes used can only see microscale changes in the cells. The researchers used partial wave spectroscopic (PWS) microscopy to see smaller changes that the conventional microscopes miss.

When the cell structure changes, light scatters through it differently.

This is why the researches believe this is a huge step in showing what biomedical optics can do for personalized screening. The team of researchers from New York University, Northwestern University, and NorthShore University Health System published their clinical study in the journal Cancer Research.

Essentially, the scientists took cheek swabs and shined a light on the cells. Scientists used the PWS microscope to tell which people had lung cancer by looking at the differences in the cells.

Not only can nanocytology help detect cancer early, it can shed light on the fact that these small changes in the cell structure are very telling.

Changes in the DNA are also very revealing. For decades, scientists have known that smoking causes cancer because it damages the DNA. Now British researchers have uncovered the link between smoking and epigenetic changes in DNA.

"Until now, however, there has been no direct evidence that smoking induces DNA methylation in humans," Cancer Research UK Institute of Cancer Studies Dr Yuk Ting Ma said in a statement. "DNA methylation is a type of epigenetic change that can result in tumor suppressor genes being inactivated."

In other words, smoking can change how genes are expressed without changing the actual sequence.

My colleague Dana Blankenhorn has been covering smoking extensively. He discussed how third hand smoke is a problem, especially when cyanide and arsenic stays in furniture and clothes. Blankenhorn also wrote about the electronic cigarettes scam and why the Food and Drug Administration wants them to be approved as drug delivery devices.

The numbers are telling: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that "more people die from lung cancer than any other type of cancer."

Medicare has an idea that paying seniors to stop smoking might help.

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