Flow technique simplifies cancer treatment

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: June 5th, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Flow cytometry. It’s a technical term that few people come across in everyday life. But if your daily routine’s ever interrupted by the threat of breast cancer, you may want to remember this term.

Flow cytometry is a simple laboratory test used to count and characterize cells in a biological sample. In new studies, it’s proving to be a quick and easy technique for characterizing breast cancer cells that doctors can use to expedite and improve treatment decisions.

In a recent issue of the journal Experimental and Molecular Pathology, Illinois scientists describe using the lab test to study molecular markers in four breast cancer cell lines.

Doctors routinely examine breast cancer tissue for these markers to determine tumor type and predict the patient’s prognosis. But standard tests may take weeks to produce results, and sometimes that’s too late to be useful in treatment decisions.

In flow cytometry, cells pass in a narrow stream through a laser beam. Molecular markers can be labeled with fluorescent tags and then detected as they pass through the beam. The test results could be done in a matter of hours for a fraction of the current cost.

If this technology fulfills its promise, researchers envision a time when this technology would come packaged in kit form, readily available for easy use in almost any laboratory.

Any new weapon is welcome against breast cancer. It’s the most common malignancy other than skin cancer among women.