Spotting Cancer Cells In Lymph Nodes

By injecting contrast agent into upstream lymph nodes, scientists in Japan were able to detect cancer cells within the lymphatic system early on.

AsianScientist (Mar. 29, 2019) – In a study published in the journal Molecular Imaging and Biology, a team of scientists in Japan has developed a method to accurately detect the migration of cancer cells into lymph nodes.

The vast majority of cancer deaths occur due to the spread of cancer from one organ to another, which can happen either through the blood or the lymphatic system. However, not many imaging techniques are currently available to detect tumors in lymph nodes. Although biopsies of lymph nodes are a possible diagnostic option, they can often give false negative results.

In this study, scientists at Tohoku University, Japan, have devised a technique involving X-ray microcomputed tomography (micro-CT) that allows doctors to detect cancers in the lymph nodes at an early stage, before the cancer cells travel to other parts of the body. The method involved injecting a contrast agent into an upstream lymph node, which then spills over into a downstream lymph node that is subsequently analyzed by micro-CT.

The team tested their new method on mice with breast cancer cells inserted into their lymph nodes. As the contrast agent made its way through the lymphatic system, the researchers were able to map out its movement using micro-CT.

Initially, the researchers did not observe any change in the flow of the contrast agent. However, after 28 days of injection into the lymph nodes, the cancer cells had divided and grown to a point where they blocked the flow of the contrast agent, resulting in a ‘negative space’ during micro-CT scans. By comparing the shape of the lymph node and the areas that contained the contrast agent, the researchers were able to get a clear picture of whether cancer cells were present.

Going forward, the researchers intend to develop better contrast agents that would offer a clearer, more precise picture of how cancer cells are moving around the lymphatic system. In the future, this technique could be an effective way to detect tumors early on, before they spread around the body, thereby increasing the likelihood of successful treatment.

The article can be found at: Iwamura et al. (2019) Imaging of the Mouse Lymphatic Sinus during Early Stage Lymph Node Metastasis Using Intranodal Lymphangiography with X-ray Micro-computed Tomography.


Source: Tohoku University. Photo: Shutterstock.
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