One of the challenges of mesothelioma is diagnosing the condition in the first place. Historically, mesothelioma is notoriously difficult to detect; unlike most carcinoma in which tumors appear as lumps, mesothelioma spreads in a sheet-like fashion across the surface of the pleural lining. All too often, the disease is not discovered until it has reached an advanced stage.
LIFE promises to change that.
Known in full as “Lung Imaging Fluorescent Endoscopy,” this tool allows oncologists to detect cancers and pre-cancerous conditions at a much earlier stage than ever before. Requiring no drugs or radioisotopes, this new technology can detect cancers as small as one to two centimeters in diameter–roughly the thickness of a dime.
The device employs a fiber-optic endoscope, which is essentially a narrow, flexible, tube-like periscope that can be inserted into various parts of the body. This endoscope is equipped with a blue laser light source that is similar to the natural fluorescence of human tissue. Since healthy and diseased tissues respond to this light differently, LIFE images reveal minor lesions and other abnormalities that other diagnostic tools overlook.
Dr. Michael Unger, an oncologist and researcher at the Fox Chase Cancer Clinic in Pennsylvania, has determined that the LIFE diagnostic method has performed far beyond expectations, detecting over 170% more cancers and pre-malignant lesions at earlier stages than ever before.
LIFE is actually built on much earlier technology that had been used for over 90 years. In 1910, a Swedish intern named Hans Christian Jacobaeus used an early form of the endoscope, known as a cytoscope, in order to examine patients’ chest cavities. Thoracoscopy has been used successfully by oncologists in Japan to identify cases of malignant mesothelioma since the turn of the century.
The lung imaging fluorescence endoscope was first developed in 1991, but has only come into general use since 2000–partially because Federal regulations require that physicians receive specialized training in the use of the equipment and are trained in fiber-optic bronchoscopy.