No more biopsies?

September 30, 2009 9:13:39 AM PDT
A biopsy is a test in which cells or tissues are removed to be examined. The tissue is then tested to determine whether or not an individual has a disease or the extent to which the disease has spread.There are several different types of biopsies. In a needle biopsy, a doctor removes tissue using a hollow tube called a syringe. A needle is passed through the syringe allowing the area to be examined. Needle biopsies are often done using x-rays to help guide the surgeon. An open biopsy is a surgery is performed under general anesthesia. A surgeon makes a cut into the affected area and the tissue is removed. Closed biopsies use a smaller surgical cut than an open biopsy. The smaller incision allows a camera-like instrument to be inserted. The instrument guides the surgeon to the affected area, out of which a sample is taken.

BIOPSY REPLACEMENT? Developed by doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital, the circulating tumor cell (CTC) machine is a new device used to reduce or even eliminate the number of biopsies a patient has to go through. This new technology uses a microchip no larger than business card to analyze a patients' blood and look for stray cells released by tumors. The device is so powerful that it can detect one cancer cell among 1 billion healthy blood cells.

About a tablespoon of a patient's blood is needed to filter through the machine. Once cells are captured, their genetic fingerprints can assist in determining the best drug to use for a patient with cancer that is spreading. Whether or not medication has lost its power can also be determined. The CTC chip has been shown to accurately identify bloodstream cancer cells in patients with advanced cancer of the lung, prostate, pancreas, breast and colon.

OTHER ALTERNATIVES: Other researchers are developing an alternative to biopsies for patients at risk for skin cancer. Doctors at Vanderbilt Medical Center use a handheld laser microscope that illuminates the skin with a laser light. The light forms an image of the skin's cellular structure and monitors the way a patient's cells change the reflected light, giving scientists information about the chemical makeup of the cells. After comparing that chemical data to a database containing chemical signatures of skin cancers, doctors can determine whether or not the patient has skin cancer (Source: Medical News Today).

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:

Katie Marquedant
Public Relations
Mass General Hospital
(617) 726-0337
kmarquedant@partners.org


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