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Fluorescent spray finds tiny signs of oesophageal cancer - UK scientists

A fluorescent dye sprayed onto the food pipe sticks to healthy cells but not cancerous or pre-cancerous ones – which could help detect the early signs of oesophageal cancer.

Volunteers at last year's Lollipop Day, the Oesophageal Cancer Fund's annual fundraiser
Volunteers at last year's Lollipop Day, the Oesophageal Cancer Fund's annual fundraiser
Image: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

A NEW SPRAY could be used to detect the early signs of oesophageal cancer and spare patients unnecessary treatment, scientists in Britain have discovered.

A fluorescent dye sprayed onto the food pipe attaches to normal, healthy cells, but won’t stick to cancerous cells or those in the early stages of turning cancerous, according to research published in Nature Medicine on Sunday.

Dr Rebecca Fitzgerald, based in the MRC Research Centre in Cambridge and lead author of the study, said that the new spray would be less intrusive than current methods and more accurate in detecting cancer.

“Current methods to screen for oesophageal cancer are controversial – they are costly, uncomfortable for the patient and not completely accurate,” said Dr Fitzgerald.

“Our technique highlights the exact position of a developing oesophageal cancer and how advanced it is, giving a more accurate picture. This could spare patients radical surgery to remove the oesophagus that can result in having to eat much smaller more regular meals and worse acid-reflux”.

The researchers were funded by the Medical Research Council and Cancer Research UK and studied a particular type of oesophageal cancer called adenocarcinoma, which has soared in recent years.

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The researchers used four patients who were having cancerous cells in the early stages removed to show how the spray could be used. In two of these cases, the research found that “pre-cancerous areas were not detected using conventional imaging but the spray clearly highlighted an area that needed treatment”.

Another patient had had their entire oesophagus removed after a small pre-cancerous area was discovered. Current techniques had been unable to determine how developed the cancer was but researchers using the fluorescent spray found that the affected area was small and could have been treated with “a less radical procedure”.

Around 300 people are diagnosed with oesophageal cancer in Ireland every year according to the Irish Cancer Society and it affects twice as many

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Christine Bohan

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