On the Spot Cancer Diagnosis

October 10, 2012

"I started painting five years ago," Niloofar Shamloo told Ivanhoe.

But Niloofar Shamloo's painting was interrupted.

"I was very sick, so I couldn't continue to go to classes," Niloofar said.

In fact, she could barely move.

"I had to quit my job. I had no energy. I was in bed all the time," Niloofar said.

It was the inflammatory bowel disease ulcerative colitis. Doctors feared it could be the sign of something even worse.

"Most of the time we diagnose pancreatic cancer already too late, when there is no cure," says Michael Kahaleh, M.D., Professor of Clinical Medicine, Chief of Endoscopy and Medical Director of the Pancreas Program, Division of Gastroenterology & Hepatology, Department of Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, explained.

Diagnosis involves an invasive biopsy, then a stressful waiting period.

Using what's called a confocal endomicroscope, doctors can diagnose cancer cells while in the operating room, without the need for laboratory biopsies.

"A normal cell will appear under floroscene, very clear and organized, but if it's cancer it will be very dark and completely disorganized," Dr. Kahaleh said.

The images, magnified up to a thousand times more than a traditional endoscope, are sent to a computer where doctors can see each cell.

"The patient will leave knowing if they have cancer or not," Dr. Kahaleh said.

Niloofar woke up from surgery and was told immediately she did not have cancer.

"For me it was like a miracle," Niloofar said.

She's back to painting with peace of mind.

Doctors are also using the scope to detect other GI tract problems, cancers in the abdomen, and colon problems. The doctor believes within the next ten years the new approach could replace traditional biopsies.

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