New breakthrough in throat cancer research

Each year in the UK, over 8000 people are diagnosed with throat cancer. This is a type of cancer which occurs in the oesophagus and it is possible that a new throat spray is going to be able to help detect the cancer at earlier stages.

The cancer is regarded as one of the most deadly types because its diagnosis is very difficult and it is often misdiagnosed by doctors. Is famously killed John Thaw, the star of the television show Morse.

Current methods of detection are not very accurate and as well as misdiagnosis it can also lead to unnecessary procedures that are very invasive, such as the surgical removal of parts of the oesophagus. Early detection of throat cancer is the key to survival and if the disease is caught early then all that is required is electrical current. This is passed through the cancer cells and it effectively kills them.

The new spray has been developed by scientists and it can only attach itself to oesophagus cells that are healthy. It is unable to become attached to cells that are developing cancer or are already cancerous. It will give doctors an idea of where the disease is developing in the throat and it will allow early treatment with the electrical current. It is estimated that this will significantly help the 8000 people who are diagnosed every year.

Unfortunately, the current methods of diagnosis mean that oesophageal cancer is often fatal because it is diagnosed when the cancer has reached a later stage. The current imaging methods are only capable of detecting a tumour that has already formed and this can lead to the requirement for invasive surgery.

The lead researcher developing the spray is Dr Rebecca Fitzgerald. She has been working out of the Cancer Cell Unit in Cambridge. She commented, “The current methods of detection are uncomfortable, expensive and not accurate enough. This technique we have developed is capable of highlighting exactly where the cancer is and what stage of development it is at.

“This will give doctors a better idea of what treatments are required and could help reduce the need for invasive surgery. Removal of the oesophagus is a life changing procedure and can result in a great deal of discomfort for post-operative patients.”

The prevalence of the disease has greatly increased in the last two decades and it is widely thought this is because of smoking and alcohol. Statistics show that if you are diagnosed with throat cancer you have a less than one in 12 chance of surviving the next five years.

The treatment has already been tested on people who were already suffering from cancer as well as those that have a medical condition which makes them particularly prone to the disease.

The researchers have said that the spray they have created is inexpensive and it utilises a protein that is found in our everyday food. The protein is capable of binding to cells inside the throat and the researchers have added a fluorescent tag to it so that it will glow green under specific light.

An endoscope can be inserted into the patient’s throat so the doctor can see whether there are any cancerous areas. Further trials need to be conducted but it is expected the diagnostic tool will enter the market within five years.