Light scattering spectroscopy helps doctors identify early pancreatic cancer

The new device uses light scattering spectroscopy (LSS) to detect the structural changes that occur in cancerous or pre-cancerous cells by bouncing light off tissues and analyzing the reflected spectrum. The results could help guide physicians’ decision making when considering whether the presence of pancreatic cysts requires surgery, a high-risk procedure. Today, because of the lack of less-invasive diagnostic methods, more than half of these procedures turn out to have been unnecessary.

“About one-fifth of pancreatic cancers develop from cysts, but not all lesions are cancerous,” said Perelman, who is also Professor of Medicine and Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology at Harvard Medical School. “Considering the high risk of pancreatic surgeries and the even higher mortality from untreated pancreatic cancers, there’s an obvious need for new diagnostic methods to accurately identify the pancreatic cysts that need surgical intervention and those that do not.”

In Perelman and colleagues’ series of experiments, the LSS technique achieved 95 percent accuracy for identifying malignancy. Cytology — the only pre-operative test currently availably — is accurate only 58 percent of the time. While the new technique requires further testing, LSS could represent a major advance against pancreatic cancer.

“This tool is a technology that is transformative in the evaluation of pancreatic cysts,” said co-lead author Douglas K. Pleskow, MD, Clinical Chief of the Division of Gastroenterology and Director of the Colon and Rectal Cancer Program at the Cancer Center at BIDMC. “It provides a high level of precision in the detection of potential malignant transformation of these cysts.”

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