MasSpec Pen Shows Promise During Pancreatic Cancer Surgery

Want to surgically remove a pancreatic tumor? Well, the entire process can take anywhere from 6-12 hours and presents some difficulties for medical practitioners. For example, during surgery, it can be difficult to tell healthy tissue from cancerous tissue. Without removing all of the cancerous tissue, the cancer can continue to grow or spread. But removing too much healthy tissue can also cause health problems. According to Medical XPress, researchers from The University of Texas at Austin and Baylor College of Medicine are now looking to improve survival rates and surgical outcomes through the MasSpec Pen. Recently, this diagnostic tool was used – for the first time ever – during pancreatic cancer surgery. Check out the benefits of the MasSpec Pen, and the results of the surgery, in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

MasSpec Pen

The MasSpec Pen was developed to provide improved surgical guidelines and diagnostic accuracy. Again, this is crucial, as differentiating between healthy and cancerous tissue can not only make surgery successful but improve patient outcomes and quality of life (QOL). For patients with pancreatic adenocarcinoma, the five-year survival rate is 9% – regardless of what stage the tumor is discovered. Being able to improve surgical options can vastly improve that number.

In this study, researchers sourced 157 banked pancreatic tissue samples to develop the technology. Next, the MasSpec Pen was used during 18 pancreatic cancer surgeries at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center. The research showed that:

  • It takes around 15 seconds for the MasSpec pen to analyze tissue samples and determine whether they are healthy or cancerous. Altogether, this is over 100x quicker than Frozen Section Analysis, the current diagnostic tool.
  • Overall, the MasSpec Pen was quick, effective, and could accurately differentiate between tissue types.

Outside of pancreatic cancer, the MasSpec Pen has also been evaluated for use in other cancers, such as breast cancer or thyroid cancer.

Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer occurs when pancreatic cells experience DNA mutations, causing cancerous cells to develop and proliferate. Normally, the pancreas releases enzymes and hormones which aid in blood sugar management and digestion. But when cancer occurs, these processes are interrupted. There are multiple forms of pancreatic cancer, with the main forms including pancreatic adenocarcinoma and Islet cell tumors. In many cases, pancreatic cancer affects those older than 45. Additional risk factors include a family history of pancreatic cancer, smoking tobacco, being obese, or being male.

In the early stages, pancreatic cancer is often asymptomatic. Thus, many patients are not diagnosed until later stages. Symptoms, when they do arise, include:

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  • Abdominal pain which spreads to the back
  • Dark urine and light stools
  • Appetite loss
  • Diabetes
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Pruritus (extreme itching)
  • Blood clots
  • Bowel obstructions
  • Depression

Learn more about pancreatic cancer.

Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn has an educational background in writing and marketing. She firmly believes in the power of writing in amplifying voices, and looks forward to doing so for the rare disease community.

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