Detection of disseminating tumor cells among patients suffering from various types and stages of cancer can function as an early warning system, alerting the physician of the metastatic spread or recurrence of the disease. Early detection of such cells can result in preventative treatment of the disease, while late stage detection can serve as an indicator of the effectiveness of chemotherapeutics. The prognostic value of exposing disseminating tumor cells poses an urgent need for an efficient, accurate screening method for metastatic cells. We propose a system for the detection of metastatic circulating tumor cells based on the thermoelastic properties of melanoma. The method employs photoacoustic excitation coupled with a detection system capable of determining the presence of disseminating cells within the circulatory system in vitro. Detection trials consisting of tissue phantoms and a human melanoma cell line resulted in a detection threshold of the order of ten individual cells, thus validating the effectiveness of the proposed mechanism. Results imply the potential to assay simple blood draws, from healthy and metastatic patients, for the presence of cancerous melanoma providing an unprecedented method for routine cancer screening.
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