One of the particularly demanding aspects of cancer surgery is making sure that the all the cancerous tissue has been extracted, Surgeons, in the middle of a procedure, have to send sample tissue to a pathology lab to test it for cancer, a task that can take half an hour. The accuracy of these tests can be spotty, meaning that a surgeon sometimes does not get all of the cancer. Such misses can mean that a patient has to be subjected to more Surgical Procedures and follow up treatments.

A pen that tests tissue for cancer in seconds

According to a story by UPI, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have developed a device called the MasSpec Pen.

The pen is a hand held device that is attached to a mass spectrometer that can test tissue for cancer in real time in about ten seconds. It does this by leaving a drop of water on the part of the body being examined and then extracting it with some molecules to be analyzed. Cancerous molecules give out a different reading than normal ones. The surgeons will be able to tell almost instantly whether they have to cut or not.

Laboratory tests have proven hopeful

Thus far, laboratory tests of the MasSpec Pen have shown to be positive. Researchers have taken tissue from cancer patients and have tested it to a 96 percent accuracy. The pen can even categorize different types and subtypes of cancer. The researchers hope to start testing the device during surgical procedures starting next year.

The advantages of the pen

The MasSpec Pen has two significant advantages over the testing procedures now in place. First, using the pen will decrease the time that cancer surgeries take. Second, the diagnostic device will, by being more accurate, cut down on the number of follow up surgeries and treatments that are necessary to deal with cancer.

Combined, the two advantages are likely to lengthen the lives and improve the quality of life for cancer patients.

When will the pen be available in operating rooms?

As is the nature of potential breakthroughs several years will likely pass before the MasSpec Pen will be in use in operating rooms. The researchers have to refine its accuracy even further.

Also, they need to answer the question, will the effects of chemotherapy and radiation through the readings off?

Still, considering the monumental suffering and death that cancer causes, any innovation that gives doctors an edge in combating it will be more than welcome. Someday, cancer will become just a chronic disease that has to be dealt with and not, as is all too often the case, a death sentence.