Imagine a pill that shows a cancerous tumor in the breast, eliminating the need for painful and often difficult-to-read mammograms.

The pill would show breast cancer tumors by “lighting up” those areas when exposed to infrared light.

This method has worked in mice, say University of Michigan researchers.

“We overspend $4 billion per year on the diagnosis and treatment of cancers that women would never die from,” points out Greg Thurber, U-M assistant professor of biomedical engineering and lead study author, in his report. “If we go to molecular imaging, we can see which tumors need to be treated.”

How a Pill Works for Detecting Breast Cancer

A dye responds to the infrared light and tags a molecule that is commonly found on cancer cells, as well as in the blood vessels that feed malignant tumors. The molecule is also found in inflamed tissue.

The unique characteristics of these molecules can help differentiate between a malignant mass from a benign one. mammogram

Infrared, which is harmless, easily penetrates the body, reaching all depths of one’s breasts.

The dye enters the patient’s body via the oral pill, eliminating the rare occurrence of a serious reaction to an intravenously-administered dye.

In the mice, the targeting molecule made it past the stomach and liver unaffected, allowing it to travel to the bloodstream to the tumor.

In the study, the pill had a molecule attached to it—a molecule that lit up when hit with infrared light. The drug was then given to mice with breast cancer, and this fluorescent molecule showed on the screen where the tumors were.

This research is ongoing, and applications to women as a breast cancer detection tool can’t come too soon.

In the meantime women should conduct self-breast exams every month and report any new changes to their doctor.

Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.  
Top image: Shutterstock, otnaydur