Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Tracking Tumours
20 January 2012

Tracking Tumours

Cancer rarely stays in the same place, which makes fighting it extremely tricky. Tumour cells can spread to other parts of the body via the lymph system - a complicated network of vessels and nodes. The patient pictured has head and neck cancer (largest yellow blob near mouth is a tumour). The smaller blobs are sentinel lymph nodes – the first nodes any cells from the tumour are likely to reach. The sentinel nodes have been identified using SPECT imaging, which works by tracking a radioactive substance through the lymph system. The tracer is injected near the tumour, and emits gamma rays, which are detected by a special camera. When the tracer drains into lymph nodes the bright hotspots result. These nodes must now be removed by a surgeon and tested for tumour cells, so doctors know what stage the cancer is at, and where to target treatment.

Written by Emma Stoye

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