‘Glowing Tumors’ Might Be the Next Step in Detecting Cancer

This new pill could help doctors fight cancer by making tumors glow and they can even detect some as small as 2cm. Here’s how it works.

When it comes to looking inside the body, scientists have had plenty of options. From MRIs to X-rays, doctors can discover troves of information about different anatomical structures however when it comes to mammograms, the techniques have been lacking. The typical mammogram uses low-energy X-rays to scan breast tissue for tumors but with up to 50% of women possessing dense breast tissue, mammograms tend to give frequent false positives. As many as 1 in 3 women are initially told they have an abnormal results only to return for more sophisticated tests and discover the result wasn’t cancer. Thankfully, there may be a solution to this problem.

A new study has developed a technique called molecular imaging where the patient consumes a pill that delivers dye to illuminate different tissue based on biochemical properties. Tumors contain the protein receptor integrin, and the dye within this pill was able to take reveal tumors as small as two centimeters in mice. While there are some issues with the pill due to metabolic processes interfering with the dye, this new technique in detecting tumors may not only give doctors information on the location of the tumor, but also whether the mass is benign or not. The hope is that molecular imaging will have more accuracy than the current standard and at the very low cost of one dollar per dose.

Supplementary footage courtesy of University of Michigan & Greg Thurber.