Cancer Screening Research. Part 3

The combined technology has many applications, Zimmer says. For instance, it can help locate and photograph very small, but profound tumors and malformations.

“Sooner or later these have to be removed and they can be very tiny — a millimeter or less,” said Zimmer, who adds that the scan can help surgeons better pinpoint a target.

The Hawkeye also can help doctors decide on treatments. For example, in the case of colon cancer metastasizing to the liver, the Hawkeye can identify whether it is a single or multiple metastases. If it’s only one site, surgery becomes a good option.

“Before, you couldn’t tell for sure,” Zimmer said.

The test likely will decrease patient stress because it’s quick, noninvasive and reduces the need for future tests, he adds.

“We’re making something that’s good even better,” Zimmer said. “Ultimately, we’re going to be saving more lives.”

Approximately 50 Hawkeye systems will be installed and operational worldwide in 2001, says Beth Klein, general manager of global nuclear medicine and PET at GE Medical.

And existing imaging systems, while not combining the two techniques, offer hope for thousands with brain tumors, says Keith Black, M.D., director of Cedars-Sinai Maxine Dunitz Neurosurgical Institute in Los Angeles. Black adds that PET scans will be very useful in the coming years to find tumors in the brain.

Other New Developments
Zimmer says he also has high hopes that the Human Genome Project will mean significant strides in cancer detection.

“Instead of assuming you’re at a higher risk for stomach cancer because you’re father died of it, you’ll be able to know for sure if you have the genetic predisposition,” he said. And it will require only a blood test, not annual invasive — and expensive — screenings, he adds.

“I think in the next two years, we’ll have that,” Zimmer said.

Virtual colonoscopy is another technique that will have those with risk factors breathing a little easier, says Robert Smith, director of cancer screening for the American Cancer Society in Atlanta.

The CT scan procedure, which doesn’t require an uncomfortable, internal scope, takes about the time of one breath hold and only requires introduction of some air into the colon, Smith says. It’s less expensive and less invasive, and the test, which is still in experimental studies, will give doctors a view of any interior or exterior cancers of the colon.

Women who have undergone an annual pelvic exam recently may be aware of the thin prep Pap smear.

In the past, Pap smears produced a thick layer of cells for technicians to study under a microscope, looking for darker cancer cell nuclei, Smith says. But the layers of cells often distorted the image.

The newer test lays down a mono-layer of cells, making cancer cells easier to see, Smith says.

Early detection and patients’ willingness to undergo regular screenings are a main cause of the decline in cancer death rates in recent years, Smith says. And he is excited that newer tests seem to be less invasive, cheaper and more accurate — good news for both patient and doctor.

“A colleague commented not long ago that most of the screening tests we do are rather medieval,” Smith said, considering the mechanics of mammography and colonoscopy. “Someday, we’ll have to look back on them and have a chuckle.”

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