The latest technology in the world is set to be brought into action in a revolution in cancer screening medical experts hope could definitively swing the balance in the battle to reduce the terrible impact the disease has on millions of lives every year. Early detection is key to individuals and their doctor’s successfully beating cancer when it appears and a new £55 million UK-USA collaboration has today announced how to plans to take advantage of new techniques such as nasal swabs, breathalysers and even ‘smart lavatories’ to detect the very beginnings of tumours even before they have formed.
90% of stage one cancers are now defeated thanks to advancements in modern medicine. That compares to a still low 10% for stage four cancers, highlighting the crucial importance to new early-screening techniques. And while there are early screening methods to detect cancers such as bowel, breast and cervical forms of the disease, technologies and methods to detect many others at a stage where they can still be nipped in the bud have been much slower to emerge. This means early detection is, say experts “like looking for a needle in a haystack”.
It is hoped that a perceived lack of investment in early screening technologies will, starting with the new £55 million project, be resolved. David Crosby, Cancer Research’s head or early detection research, commented:
“There are pockets of incredible research [into early detection] dotted around in the UK and US but they tend to be isolated and that excellence tends to be sporadic.”
The research will be carried out by an alliance of early detection experts from Cancer Research UK, University College London, Cambridge and Manchester universities on the UK side and Stanford University’s Canary Centre and the Oregon Health and Science University’s Knight Cancer Institute from the USA. They will share research, pool expertise and innovations and cross-check findings from clinical trials with each other’s sample groups from local populations.
As well as biotech techniques that can reveal a genetic biomarker for lung cancer from a nasal swab, a breathalyser that can detect early signs of stomach and oesophageal cancer, the research will look to further develop ‘smart lavatories’ able to test urine for tell-tale signs of early-stage bowel cancer. A new kind of MRI scan that is ‘hyperpolarised’ is also showing promise as a means to detect bowel cancer without the requirement for a needle biopsy.
Another new development in cancer screening is the impending NHS introduction of lung cancer scanners that can be installed on trucks as mobile units that will be placed in public spaces such as supermarket car parks. The alliance’s core target is to “reduce the timescale from new technology to clinical implementation”.
While there is still a long way to go in the battle against cancer, rapid technological innovations are expected to offer hope to millions in coming years with early detection seen as an important step in the right direction while definitive cures for the disease are sought.