Hello my dear readers. As you know for us cancer advocate junkies, everyday is cancer day, every week is cancer week and every month is cancer month. May has a couple of global cancer awareness activities and designated cancers we put on the stage and give the microphone. These cancers are skin, bladder and brain.
For us every cancer is important and deserves a spotlight so this month we will demystify these three cancers, how we can prevent them, detect them and kick them to oblivion.
Skin cancer is said to be rare amongst people of chocolate brown colour but ironically today I saw a young gentleman with this cancer. The ulcer was huge and whenever I see that I always thin it’s a lack of awareness and suspicion that leads to late presentation.
Bladder cancer is also one of those cancers that progresses through a couple of loud stages before it gets to a very advanced stage. Why do I say loud? Well one of the earliest symptoms would be blood in urine. That should be thoroughly investigated taking into account history of bilharzia or smoking.
The brain being a vital organ, any disease affecting it will be distressing
However, this week too many interesting innovations have come to my attention that I must simply share with you. They may be a bit technical but I will try to simplify the concepts to the very basic principles. I may also be accused of being too global but until I discover the local innovations I have to report on international ones.
Innovation of the week 1: How many of you watch Greys Anatomy? This season there has been a competition running at Grey-Sloane Memorial Hospital and Dr Weber has an invention that is able to detect cancer cells by applying a pen like device to tissue. Guess what that innovation is real! Scientists led by assistant professor of chemistry Livia S. Eberlin developed this gadget called MasSpec at University of Texas in Austin. This is very important for surgeons, as often they need to make a call when they are carrying out cancer surgery whether to preserve or cut. One of the worst feelings I must say is to receive a result reporting that you cut through cancer. So the device works by absorbing molecules from the tissue. Apparently normal tissue produces different metabolites from cancerous tissue and this device is able to distinguish these cells apart. A surgeon would touch the tip of the pen to the tissue during surgery and the water droplet at the end of the pen captures these metabolites and pulls the molecules up through a tube to a mass spectrometer that analyses the molecules and spits out results in 10 seconds. It has been shown to be accurate 96 percent of the time. Of course extensive clinical trials are needed before this becomes widespread.
In comparison the current method intraoperative pathological diagnosis in real time takes about 30minutes and requires a specialist pathologist a whole load of different infrastructure.
This is a fantastic innovation and I’m crossing my fingers we would be able to use it in the clinical setting after all is nuts and bolts are checked.
Innovation of the week 2: Radiotherapy bra. Now this one will most likely be amusing only to radiotherapy professionals and of course breasting cancer patients and their caregivers who have had to under go the treatment. It’s not a new concept per se but radiotherapists and a compression garment specialist at John Hopkins got together to create a bra that lifts the breasts away from the body and also keeps them in the same position for the full course treatment. Setting up breast cancer patients for radiotherapy treatment is especially challenging for women with pendulous breast as these change position interfraction and even intrafraction. There is also what we call bolus effect. This is where a medium or tissue causes radiation to build up on the surface of the skin. Excess dose leads to peeling of the skin and this can in turn create an environment where bacteria can flourish.
The reason this particular innovation caught my eye is the simplicity of creating it yet the enormous benefit it brings. Such innovations can happen anywhere as long as minds are critically contributing. Cloth, thread and needle.
Innovation of the week 3: Hand held mammography – the iBreastExam. Honestly speaking I have been stalking this innovation since 2016. So this gadget is a diagnostic tool designed to perform painless and radiation free breast scans. What a jackpot! It is mobile and versatile. Dr Wan Shih an associate professor and her colleagues in the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems birthed this innovation. UE LifeSciences in collaboration with GE Healthcare then took it up for worldwide distribution. Currently it is not available on the African continent so my fantasies involve getting one of these into my hands and screening tons of women and saving lives.
Innovation and technology are all a vital part of life to survive. As the common saying goes the only constant is change. Medicine and in particular cancer care should not divorce ourselves from this fact. Regardless of resources solutions must be found. I once attended an entrepreneur’s conference called DEMO Africa. In this platform, the organisers encourage participants to develop ideas that can fly in Africa as well as in Silicon Valley. This is very important to level the playing field.
So after this inspiring week let me pen off and put on my thinking cap to contribute to the world!
The author is a Clinical and Radiation Oncologist. She is the founder of Oncocurae.com a digital platform dedicated to conquering cancer in the continuum of care. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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