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Collaboration Between the Departments of Otolaryngology and Engineering for Earlier Diagnosis of Throat Cancer

Posted by on Wednesday, July 25, 2018 in News, TIPs 2017.

Written by C. Burton Wood, MD, Justin R. Shinn, MD and Young J. Kim, MD

HPV-Flexible Probe

Raman Spectroscopy flexible probe.

HPV-related cancers of the tonsils and the base of the tongue have increased rapidly over the last few decades. These cancers are often small and do not cause many symptoms in early stages, so many patients are not diagnosed until the tumor has already spread to lymph nodes in the neck. We are always trying to identify these tumors earlier to treat patients with less intensive therapies while still aiming to cure them of their cancer and minimize the side effects.

Raman spectroscopy has been used to diagnose difficult-to-locate cancers in other parts of the body, such as the cervix, gastrointestinal tract and the oral cavity, but has never been used to investigate cancers in the oropharynx (tonsils and base of tongue). This technique involves a small probe that shines a light into the tissue and measures the absorbed and scattered light based on the metabolic profile of the tissues. These changes are recorded by a computer system that then determines whether the tissue is cancerous or non-cancerous. Using this technique, the light signatures or ‘spectra’ obtained by the probe are able to identify cancers without needing to take biopsies. There are no known side-effects using this technique.

Representative spectra obtained using the Raman Spectroscopy system.

Representative spectra obtained using the Raman Spectroscopy system.

We have conducted preliminary studies on biopsy samples that have shown the Raman system accurately identify cancer versus non-cancerous tissues. Additionally, we have enrolled three patients for Raman spectroscopy while they were undergoing biopsy in the operating room for diagnosis of their oropharyngeal tumors. Including this procedure with the biopsy added only 5-7 minutes to the total time of the procedure. The early results are promising, but we will need to enroll more patients before we know how accurate this technique is at identifying cancers in this region.

This study would not be possible without the TIPs award, as it provided the funding required to develop and build probes specifically designed to be used through our scopes during biopsy. We are excited about the future of this project and the collaborative effort it represents.


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