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Detecting Tumors To Save Lives

An experimental hand-held scanner is giving doctors a better way to detect tumors.

On The Saturday Early Show , Dr. Mallika Marshall of WBZ-TV explained that unlike magnetic resonance imaging and CT scans, the new tool, known as the PET probe, has the ability to pinpoint exactly where the tumor is located in the body.

A walk along Californian's Santa Monica Bluffs is especially meaningful for Gene Anderson and his family. After years of battling cancer, his life is now free of the disease.

It was almost six year ago that a bad headache led Anderson to a doctor where he was soon diagnosed with a brain tumor and end stage melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

He was treated at California's John Wayne Cancer Institute. There, he was given an experimental melanoma vaccine. His doctors also used a cutting edge hand-held PET probe, which is designed to guide surgeons right to the cancer.

"At this point in our experience, we have been able to use it to actually change our operation by identifying the tumor and going beyond that edge, to now clear the margins," said the institute's Dr. Richard Essner.

Margins are the sides of tumors where microscopic cells can be left behind. In order for cancer treatment to be successful, these cells need to be completely removed. To find them, doctors give the patient radioactive sugar, which is absorbed by the cells. If the cells are present, they will be picked up by the probe, which is scanned directly over the body.

"I think that it's becoming more and more important, because as surgeons we are limited by what we can see, what we can feel with our hands, said Essner. "There's certainly variations across the board of ability."

The doctor and his colleagues are now working to perfect the proper application of the probe.