PET imaging can detect cancer gene activity

In collaboration with the Press Association

US scientists have used PET imaging to detect overactive cancer genes inside breast tumours for the first time, raising the possibility that doctors may be able to detect and determine the type of cancer without the need for invasive biopsies.

The technology, known as radiohybridisation imaging (RHI), uses a DNA 'probe' to detect the activity of a gene called CCND1, according to the research report in the Journal of Nuclear Medicine.

The high levels of activity of CCND1 in most breast cancer cells means that it can be easily viewed using PET scanning and an appropriate probe.

Dr Mathew Thakur, professor of radiology and radiation oncology at Jefferson Medical College, said that doctors could use the technique to differentiate between harmless and malignant lumps.

"When suspect lumps are discovered, biopsies are necessary to determine if the lumps are cancerous.

"Mammography, an invaluable screening technique, sees shapes but not gene activity.

"Genetic PET scanning is a minimally invasive, sensitive and specific technique that might detect cancers with high efficiency in adult women and young women without breast compression."

The expert noted that the ability to identify active cancer genes from outside the body could prevent patients with benign lumps from undergoing invasive procedures.

"Observing the cancer gene activity of a breast tumour will permit physicians to determine the best way to treat it," he added.

Researchers are also hopeful that the technology could be used to detect the activity of other cancer genes.

Dr Thakur noted: "Several other cancers show characteristic activated genes that we might be able to use for early diagnosis, such as pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer, lymphoma and colon (bowel) cancer."