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Health Beat: Bye bye biopsy! Chemicals diagnose cancer

Health Beat: Bye bye biopsy! Chemicals diagnose cancer

Nearly 70,000 Americans will be diagnosed with a brain tumor this year.  Now, there's a new way doctors can figure out if it's dangerous without having to operate.

Quite often, brain tumors have to be removed, but there's always a chance they could come back.  If they do, it can be hard to tell if they're cancerous.

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

After radiation therapy, Grace had that benign tumor removed from her brain.  Then, a new mass popped up in the same spot.

Dr. Robert Kagan, a radiologist with the MRI Scan Center, 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?" Kagan said.

Tissue damage caused by radiation and cancerous tumor cells look alike, but they aren't.  

"The chemical composition of radiation necrosis is a lot different than a malignant tumor," explained Kagan.

The doctor was able to determine the chemical makeup of Grace's mass with MR spectroscopy.  Without an invasive biopsy or injecting dye, he used an advanced MRI machine to figure out if the growth is cancerous.  The ratio of various brain chemicals lead to a diagnosis.  In Grace's case, Kagan said it wasn't a tumor.

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

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

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 the Mayo Clinic, Duke University and Standford University Medical Center. The test is not covered by insurance at this time and could cost you about $900.

The doctor said MR spectroscopy is also being used to detect breast and prostate cancers in clinical trials.

DOWNLOAD and VIEW research summary

DOWNLOAD and VIEW the full-length interview with Dr. Robert Kagan about chemically diagnosing cancer

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