Say Cheese! Pancreatic Cancer Gets in to Focus

Optical coherence tomography can help differentiate between high and low risk pancreatic cysts

(RxWiki News) Imaging techniques, such as MRI's and ultrasound, can detect obvious problems within the pancreas such as enlargement and large, abnormal growths. New imaging advancements may help doctors predict  future problems by looking at something very small.

Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) can help determine whether a pancreatic cyst is at a high-risk for becoming malignant, something that before now has been unavailable. OCT produces high resolution images by projecting lasers on to tissue. Doctors can then use these images to diagnose different disorders, including the status of pancreatic cysts.

"Ask your oncologist about which diagnostic imaging technique is right for you."

Standard imaging techniques such as CT scans, MRI and ultrasound can detect cysts but are not clear enough to determine a high or low risk cyst.

A pancreatic cyst can be benign or malignant. Cysts are usually a collection of fluid or material within a sac in the body. A benign cyst typically causes few symptoms, while other pancreatic cysts can be cancerous or become cancerous. 

Scientists have already determined what type of cysts are at a low or high risk for becoming malignant. These cysts are discovered either through imaging or when a patient has symptoms such as pancreatitis or abdominal pain.  

A high risk cyst is usually large and visible with standard imaging techniques and persists even after the sudden swelling of the pancreas ends. High risk cysts are usually surgically removed.

For this study, researchers used OCT to examine pancreatic tissue samples that contained both malignant and benign cysts. Scientists were then able to create a set of visual rules from test samples that could help determine if the cyst was at a lower or higher risk of becoming malignant. A malignant cyst was filled with fluid in larger cavities, while benign cysts had a honeycomb structure.

Using these rules, researchers then studied the sample of pancreatic cysts and tried to determine if the cysts were at a low or high risk of being malignant under a microscope. When results of the microscopic evaluation and OCT were compared, it showed that OCT was just as effective in differentiating between high and low risk cysts.

Future tests can improve OCT clarity which will help determine if a solid lesion (a group of cysts) is malignant or benign.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved testing OCT in human patients. If results are reliable enough, a larger study with more patients is planned for the future.

This study was published in the August 2011 edition of the Biomedical Optics Express.