Imaging technique uncovers oxygen starved prostate tumors

Scientists have developed a new imaging technique capable of uncovering oxygen-starved prostate tumors thereby paving a way for a non-invasive way determine which tumours are more difficult to treat.

The study funded by Cancer Research UK was carried out by scientists at University of Cambridge who developed the new technique with an imaging device using a combination of light and sound to check the oxygen levels in prostate tumours in mice. Scientists gave mice a short burst of pure oxygen to breathe, and monitored how quickly and efficiently the extra oxygen reached different tumour areas through the blood supply.

Using the imaging device, the researchers were able to image the stronger response to oxygen by tumours with better blood vessels, which could give vital information on the quality of vessels.

This could help doctors find patients with harder to treat prostate cancers. Cancer cells supplied by poor quality blood vessels and low oxygen levels – called hypoxic conditions – are more resistant to drugs and radiotherapy.

Not only are cells in hypoxic conditions hardier and better at adapting to harsh conditions, making them more aggressive, but poor blood vessels also reduce the number of treatments like chemotherapy that can penetrate into the heart of the tumour.

Dr Sarah Bohndiek, scientist at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, said: “Our new imaging technique gives us a clearer picture of the heart of prostate cancer than we have ever had before.

Every year, about 46,500 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer and around 11,000 men die from the disease.

Prof Karen Vousden, Cancer Research UK’s chief scientist, said: “This new technique compliments existing MRI and PET scans by helping us learn more about blood vessels within the tumour, which we haven’t been able to look at before in this way”.

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