Chemicals used to help diagnose cancer

New high-tech way to help patients avoid biopsies

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It's believed close to 70 thousand Americans will be diagnosed with a cancerous or non-cancerous brain tumor this year. Even if they're removed, there's a chance the tumors could come back. Now, doctors are using a new way to figure out if a dangerous tumor is regrowing or if something else is going on in the brain.

"I have a tumor the size of a goose egg right here in my head," said Mary Grace, who had a brain tumor.

After radiation therapy, Grace had that benign tumor removed from her brain. Then, a new mass popped up in the same spot. Radiologist Dr. Robert Kagan believed it was one of two things.

"The question here was, is this a malignant tumor caused by the radiation or is this an effect of the radiation?" said Kagan,, a Radiologist at the MRI Scan Center.

Tissue damage caused by radiation and cancerous tumor cells look alike, but, ""The chemical composition of radiation necrosis is a lot different than a malignant tumor," Kagan said.

The doctor was able to determine the chemical make-up of Grace's mass with MR spectroscopy. Without an invasive biopsy or injecting dye, he uses an advanced MRI machine to figure out if the growth is cancerous. The ratio of various brain chemicals lead to a diagnosis.

"And that shows you that it is necrosis and not a tumor," Kagan explained.

Grace's cancer scare has passed and the benign brain mass is safely removed.

"And now my synapses are firing. It's like a Gatling gun," Grace said.

Kagan has one of about 200 MRI machines capable of performing state of the art MR spectroscopy in the United States. Others are located at places like Mayo Clinic, Duke University and Stanford University Medical Center. The test is not covered by insurance at this time and could cost you about 900 dollars. The doctor says MR spectroscopy is also being used to detect breast and prostate cancers in clinical trials.

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