A new technique has been developed at Singapore's National University Hospital to detect cancer in its early stages, researchers said Saturday.
The hospital is conducting a trial involving 58 patients, 12 of whom are receiving treatment after the "optical biopsy" diagnosed them with early-stage cervical cancer.
The technique detects pre-cancers or collections of a few hundred malignant cells among millions of healthy cells.
Pap smears, the usual method used to test for cancer in the cervix, do not detect these pre-cancers, Huang Zhiwei, the project leader, told The Straits Times.
Using light waves near the infrared region of the spectrum, the team reported they were able to accurately detect early tumours deep beneath the tissue surface.
The radiation targets specific proteins and carbohydrates in the cells, Huang said.
Varying combinations of biochemical molecules create a "fingerprint", helping in determining whether the cell is normal or not, he said.
Conventional methods of optical testing used normal white light or ultraviolet light.
White light allows doctors to view only late-stage tumours that have already caused abnormalities on the tissue surface, Huang said. Ultraviolet light cannot penetrate far into the tissue.
The new technique can eventually be applied to almost any cancer though it would still require more clinical trials, he added.