Protecting the lymphatic system: preventing cancer from becoming more dangerous by diagnosing cancer cells inside lymph nodes

By Patrycja Sztachelski

Researchers at Tohoku University have developed a method to detect cancers in lymph nodes prior to the disease spreading to other parts of the body. Most cancer deaths occur as a result of the disease traveling across many organs, either through the blood or through the lymphatic system, so this diagnostic approach could save the lives of many.

Currently, there are not many imaging techniques that could detect tumors in lymph nodes while they are still small, and biopsies in lymph nodes can be falsely negative. The new method takes advantage of a technique known as x-ray microcomputed tomography (micro-CT). Tested on mice, breast cancer cells were inserted into their lymph nodes, followed by a contrast agent that allowed researchers to track its movement as it crossed the lymphatic system. After 28 days of this initial injection of cancer cells into the lymph nodes, the cells had divided and grown so that they blocked the movements of the contrast agent, thereby creating areas in the scan that did not indicate the presence of any contrast agent.

Future efforts to improve this technique would involve discovering better contrast agents that would offer clearer pictures of how cancer cells migrate through the lymphatic system.


Tohoku University. (2019, March 14). A new method to diagnose cancer cells inside lymph nodes. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 18, 2019 from