New method may enhance treatment for breast and pancreatic cancer

In a new study, researchers found a non-invasive imaging technique that measures the stiffness of tissues could give new information about cancer architecture.

It could aid the delivery of treatment to the most challenging tumors, such as pancreatic cancer.

The research was reported by the Institute of Cancer Research in London.

Tumors are masses of uncontrolled cellular growth, formed of dense and compact networks of cells, structural fibers, and blood vessels.

It can, therefore, be challenging to effectively deliver treatment to some tumors as the mass is often stiff and difficult to penetrate.

According to them, the new technique is called magnetic resonance elastography. It can visualize and measure how stiff and dense tumors are.

It can be implemented on conventional clinical MRI scanners, may help select the best treatment course for some cancer patients.

In the study, the team found that using their new type of scan could assess the contribution of collagen to relative stiffness across a number of different tumor types.

This, in turn, could identify tumors in which there is the potential to use new drugs designed to ‘weaken’ the structure holding together tumors—thereby giving other drugs access to cancer cells in the center of the tumor.

Initial studies showed that collagen was key to keeping breast and pancreatic cancers stiff and inaccessible to treatments.

In contrast, tumors arising from the nervous system, such as some forms of childhood cancer and brain tumors, were relatively soft and lacking in collagen.

The findings suggest that the scan can monitor the weakening of the tumor structure through drugs designed to break down this extracellular matrix, such as collagenase.

The technique could also be key to identifying the optimum time to efficiently deliver chemotherapeutic agents by showing when the tumor is most vulnerable.

The team says specialist imaging techniques have made a huge contribution to improving the way doctors diagnose, monitor and treat people with cancer, and it will be interesting to see if these results can be translated to the clinic.

One author of the study is Dr. Simon Robinson, Team Leader in Magnetic Resonance at The Institute of Cancer Research.

The study is published in the journal Cancer Research.

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