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Ovarian Cancer May Be Detectable Early By Testing Cells From Uterus Or Cervix

Pioneering biophotonics technology developed in the US can detect nanoscale changes in cells from the cervix and uterus that may indicate early stage ovarian cancer, according to a study published this month in the International Journal of Cancer.

The researchers describe how using partial wave spectroscopic (PWS) microscopy they could detect diagnostic changes in uterus and cervix cells taken from ovarian cancer patients via a minimally invasive procedure. Under an ordinary microscope, the cells would look normal.

PWS has already shown promise in previous studies as a way to detect colon, pancreatic and lung cancers early, also using, as in this study of ovarian cancer, cells from neighboring organs.

The cells for this latest ovarian cancer study came from the cervix and uterus. For the earlier lung cancer study, the researchers used cells brushed from the cheek. For the colon cancer study, cells came from the rectum, and for the pancreatic cancer study, they came from the duodenum.

In all cases, cells from these neighboring organs showed changes at the nanoscale when cancer was present.

If commercialized, the researchers, from Northwestern University and NorthShore University HealthSystem (NorthShore) in Evanston, Illinois, believe the method could be in clinical use in around five years.

"This intriguing finding may represent a breakthrough that would allow personalization of screening strategies for ovarian cancer via a minimally intrusive test that could be coupled to the Pap smear," says co-author Hemant K. Roy, of NorthShore.

There is currently no reliable way to detect ovarian cancer in its early stages. The majority of cases are not diagnosed until the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, vastly reducing the chances of a cure and making it very difficult to treat.

PWS works at the nanoscale, which is much, much smaller than the scale of an ordinary microscope. A nanometer is one billionth (10 to the minus 9) of a meter, or about three to five atoms wide (a virus is typically 100 nm in size).

At this scale, the behavior of particles and materials is governed more by what scientists call quantum effects, giving them a new bag of tools to work with.

PWS uses light scattering to probe the nanoscale architecture of cells ("nanocytology"), offering scientists what the authors describe as a "paradigm shift" in biomedical optics.

"Technologically, we demonstrate that PWS nanocytology is exquisitely sensitive to cell nano-architecture at length scales 

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