Lasers light the way to quicker cancer diagnosis

Space-age laser science could save thousands of people a worrying wait for breast cancer test results. The original concept was developed at our Central Laser Facility and applied to cancer diagnosis in partnership with Prof Nicholas Stone (Exeter University), a pioneering technique that can safely and non-invasively analyse tissue deep below the skin could allow abnormalities detected during mammograms to be investigated there and then.

This would avoid the need for a follow-up visit to hospital for a needle biopsy. Currently, these biopsies result in an ‘all clear’ for around 75-90% of patients, or around 75,000 people each year. As well as cutting biopsy costs, earlier diagnosis using the laser-based technique could also lead to earlier treatment if malignancy is confirmed.

It’s still early days, but the technique’s viability has already been proven and, together with the University of Exeter, we’re about to test it on ‘ex vivo’ human tissue in partnership with the Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation

Trust and funded by EPSRC. Called SORS (Spatially Offset Raman Spectroscopy), this extremely versatile technique has many applications, such as detecting liquid explosives hidden in airline luggage and identifying counterfeit drugs.

Professor Nick Stone of the University of Exeter, who’s leading the breast cancer project, says: “If everything progresses as hoped, this could become routine hospital practice within around ten years.”

More information is available.

Science and Technology Facilities Council Switchboard: 01793 442000