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Knife that 'smells tumors' can detect uterine cancer in seconds | Cancer

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A revolutionary surgical knife that “sniffs out tumors” can diagnose uterine cancer in seconds, researchers have found in a breakthrough that could allow thousands of healthy women to recover faster.

The disease is the fourth most common type of cancer in women and affects around 9,000 a year in the UK, but only around 10% of people with suspicious symptoms who undergo a biopsy are diagnosed with the disease.

Now, experts at Imperial College London have discovered that the iKnife, a device that is already used to treat breast and brain cancer, can accurately detect the presence of endometrial cancer.

“iKnife reliably diagnosed endometrial cancer in seconds with a diagnostic accuracy of 89%, minimizing current delays for women awaiting a histopathological diagnosis,” the research team wrote in the journal Cancers. “The findings presented in this study may pave the way for new diagnostic avenues.”

iKnife uses electrical currents to differentiate between cancerous and healthy tissue by analyzing the smoke that is emitted when biopsy tissue is vaporized after it has been removed from the uterus.

The researchers said its effectiveness was proven by using biopsy tissue samples from 150 women with suspected uterine cancer, and the results compared with current diagnostic methods. The team plans to launch a large clinical trial, which could lead to widespread use.

Athena Lamnisos, executive director of the charity Eve Appeal, which funded the research, said: “Waiting for test results is stressful – especially if the test is to find out whether you have cancer or not. When you hear that the ‘c’ word is even a possibility, the days can’t go by fast enough until a doctor gives you the all clear.

“Uterine cancer has a ‘red flag’ symptom of postmenopausal bleeding that should always be checked on a two-week referral from your GP. Waiting another two weeks for results can be very difficult for patients.

“There are many reasons for abnormal vaginal bleeding after menopause – uterine cancer is just one of them – the ability to provide a diagnostic test that immediately and accurately indicates or excludes cancer can make such a positive difference.

“This Eve-supported research has the potential to create a sea change in faster diagnosis and, for the 90% of women with postmenopausal bleeding that is not cancer, a really effective way to reassure them. We know how important this is for patients.”

Alison, a 57-year-old woman from west London who had symptoms of uterine cancer earlier this year but was eventually cleared, said the iKnife would have made a huge difference to her experience.

“Fortunately, I was one of the people with postmenopausal bleeding lucky enough to find out it wasn’t caused by cancer. It was very frustrating to wait for the results, which was almost three weeks for me.

“I was asked to go in person to get the results too, which to me was a clear indication that it was bad news and that I had uterine cancer. It was scary.

“It would make a world of difference to know right away that I didn’t have cancer and not have to wait three weeks.”

Professor Sadaf Ghaem-Maghami, who led the research at Imperial College London, said getting a diagnosis within seconds could allow women confirmed to have cancer to start treatment sooner, while those deemed healthy would avoid weeks of anxiety.

“The iKnife has the potential to completely revolutionize the way we care for people seen at the rapid access clinics with significant abnormal vaginal bleeding who have been referred for a potential diagnosis of endometrial cancer.

“With its high diagnostic accuracy of 89% and positive predictive value of 94%, it can immediately reassure the person that they are very unlikely to have cancer if the iKnife result is negative, and expedite further testing, screening and treatment for people whose Biopsies indicate the presence of cancer. This can happen pending confirmation of standard pathology, which can take up to two weeks.”