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Early Cancer Detection with a Cheek Swab

Researchers are developing a new way to detect cancer using a simple cheek swab.


Photo: Canadian Blood Services (flickr)

The cheek cells from the swab are transferred to a slide to be examined under a microscope.

Researchers at Northwestern University have figured out an effective way to detect early signs of lung cancer with a simple swab of the cheek!

This will be a great way for doctors to test patients who are at high risk for lung cancer, without having to do further, more intensive procedures.

Who Is High Risk?

Lung cancer is still the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in this country. People who may benefit most from this test are people who are much more likely to get lung cancer, such as heavy smokers, but have not yet developed serious symptoms.

This way, doctors will be able to catch the cancer in its earliest stages and treat it more effectively. The earlier cancer cells can be detected, the better.

Quick And Painless

The procedure is simple. First the doctor takes a simple and painless cheek swab from the patient. Then the cheek cells from the swab are transferred to a slide to be examined under a microscope.

The scientific term for this treatment is partial wave spectroscopic microscopy, or PWS. The magnification of these cells under the microscope is so great, that scientists can see subtle cell differences as small as 20 nanometers! With previous microscopy techniques, these subtle changes would most likely go unnoticed and the cells may appear normal.

The researchers who developed this technique have found that PWS may be useful in detecting colon and pancreatic cancer as well.

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Molly Plunkett

is a journalism student at Indiana University and an online producer for A Moment of Science. She is originally from Wheaton, IL.

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