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Could a new imaging test help in the treatment of mesothelioma and lung cancer?

19 April 2016

A new imaging technique being tested in the UK raises hopes of those suffering from various forms of cancer, as it can show early indications of how well cancer drugs are working on individual patients.

The hope is that the technique could save valuable time by matching patients with a treatment best suited and most effective for their cancer.

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First in Europe

The study of the metabolic imaging technique is currently taking place at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, in Cambridge.

The first cancer patient in Europe has been scanned with the “revolutionary” imaging technique that could enable doctors to see whether a drug is working within a day or two of starting treatment.

The patient is the first to take part in the new metabolic imaging trial of patients across a wide range of cancer types to be carried out by scientists at Addenbrooke’s Hospital funded by Cancer Research UK. The study could show whether patients can stop taking drugs that aren’t working for them, try different ones and receive the best possible treatment for their cancer as quickly as possible.

Image courtesy of ponsulak at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The rapid scan will allow doctors to map out molecular changes in patients, opening up potential new ways to detect cancer and monitor the effects of treatment.

Experts believe that the new technique could lead to “more personalised treatments” for cancer patients.

Dr Ferdia Gallagher, honorary consultant radiologist at the University of Cambridge, said studies on animals had shown promising results and it was time to try the technique on humans.

He said: “This new technique could potentially mean that doctors will find out much more quickly if a treatment is working for their patient instead of waiting to see if a tumour shrinks. This would normally take weeks or months to discover.”

Helping to fight mesothelioma

Figures from the Health and Safety Executive show that more than 2,500 people are diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma in the UK each year and according to the Department for Health and Pensions, 53,000 people will die from pleural mesothelioma between 2013 and 2037.

During a debate at the House of Lords in November, it was found that only £480 was being invested into mesothelioma research projects per death, compared to more than £3,700 for skin cancer per death.

Figures from the National Cancer Research Institute showed that throughout 2014, just £820,000 was invested into mesothelioma research. This number is significantly lower than the £9.9 million and £5.3 million spent respectively on the skin cancers melanoma and myeloma, which are two forms of skin cancer with a similar mortality rate.

Research funding is slowly improving and the Government recently announced a £2 million investment in a National Mesothelioma Research Centre.

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The new metabolic imaging technique could aid in the fight against mesothelioma  and lung cancer by speeding up the time it takes to get results of a patient’s treatments. The cancers are aggressive and difficult to treat, so any quick insight into a patient’s progresses under treatment will benefit.

Instead of having to wait weeks or even months for the results of a treatment that might not work, doctors would only have to wait a few days to find out if a treatment is working, and if not, start a new course of treatment  with the patient, to give them the best possible chance of prolonging life.

Further reading

What is mesothelioma?

What is asbestos?

£5 million promised for new National Mesothelioma Centre

BBC Health – New test measures cancer drug success


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