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A team of scientists in the US have released the findings of their study which gives preliminary data on their application of Raman spectroscopy in the diagnosis of thyroid cancer. While the method is still in the phase of being tested for accuracy, the initial figures look promising. The analysis shows that Raman spectroscopy can differentiate between benign and cancerous thyroid tumors with a near-perfect 97% diagnostic accuracy.
Thyroid cancer is the 9th most common form of cancer, with over 50,000 new cases being diagnosed each year in the US alone. With the advent of this new method, diagnosis can be improved on, reducing both stress and discomfort to patients and the cost of treatment to the healthcare system.
Introduction to Raman Spectroscopy
Raman Spectroscopy is a process where light is scattered, producing Rayleigh Scatter and Rayman Scatter. Rayleigh Scatter is the same wavelength as the laser source and provides no information. Raman Scatter, on the other hand, is the light that scatters at different wavelengths and can tell us a lot about the nature of the sample it is scattered on. The chemical structure of the sample determines the wavelength of the Raman Scatter, the intensity and position of these wavelengths are related to specific molecular bond vibration. The data collected from the Raman Scatter can be analyzed to determine factors such as the chemical structure and identity of the sample, phase, and polymorphism, intrinsic stress/strain and contamination and impurity. The method means that material can be classified, without destroying any part of it.
The capability of Raman Spectroscopy to identify numerous factors about cell samples allows it to be useful in distinguishing between benign and cancerous thyroid cells. Currently, the process of discovering whether a lump on the neck is cancerous or not involves an invasive exploration of what that lump is. Most thyroid nodules aren't cancerous, and patients have to undergo biopsies to find this out. In around 15-30% of cases, biopsies fail to give a conclusive reading of whether or not the cells are cancerous, in these instances a minor surgery is carried out to study the cells further. Raman spectroscopy opens up the possibility of testing without the need for invasive surgeries.
Application of Raman Spectroscopy to Identify Cancer
Earlier this year, an American team presented the first example of successfully using Raman spectroscopy to identify cancer subtypes at the single-cell level in humans. They captured the chemical composition from entire cells using a line-scan Raman microscope. Their data analysis was able to identify unique spectral differences that allowed for an almost perfect categorization of cells as either benign or cancerous, performing accurate diagnoses of thyroid cell samples.
These results are promising, and they open up an avenue to explore for non-invasive diagnosis which would improve on patient experience and also on the cost of treatment. More work needs to be done to confirm the accuracy of the test, but the initial outlook is good. In addition, the methodology could, in theory, be applied to testing for other cancers, which would have a profound impact on the way cancer is managed, giving doctors and patients the chance to catch cancer early. The implications don’t stop at cancer diagnosis, Raman Spectroscopy has the potential to be developed for the diagnosis of other diseases. While it’s still early days, we can hypothesize that this method of diagnosis may shape the future of healthcare. If scientists are able to develop the methodology to work for other cancers and diseases, we could see the beginning of widespread screening, catching illnesses before the symptoms arise and giving people a better chance of survival.
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