The Colors of Cancer in Science and Support

The Colors of Cancer in Science and Support

Just as the breath of someone who has had too much to drink reeks of acetone, the breath of someone with lung cancer reeks too... Except humans can't smell the cancer... But machines might be able to. A group of US scientists based in the Cleveland Clinic, Ohio, have devised a test that hopes to become an inexpensive solution to an otherwise $1200 series of tests.

Connecting the Dots - Cancer in Color

lung cancer breath test sensor   

This tiny square, about the size of a quarter, has thirty-six dots of different colours. These colours are actually specifically allocated receptors for different Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) which are produced when cancerous tumours are in the lungs. These compounds are produced because the presence of cancer actually changes metabolism in the lungs, and different chemicals are exhaled.

Naturally, it is true that passing breath over the test will yield results -- as there is a very chemical process involved -- the difference is in the colors. While sometimes there may not even appear to be a change, a machine that will later read the dotted card will reveal the results, and the test has shown 'moderate accuracy' by correctly diagnosing nearly three-fourths of every tested patient. To tell the difference, the sensor array's 36 chemically sensitive spots were converted to numerical values for the change in red, blue, and green components.

While admittedly not ready for market until higher accuracy is available, this test can promise early detection and easier access to testing.

When Fingerprints Won't Do

Tests like the Lung Cancer breathalyser have been brought to the forefront because, in order to diagnose cancer properly, it requires a doctor's ability to see inside your body -- and clearly. Procedures that allow this insight can be extremely invasive and expensive because of the preparation and execution of the examination. And they can take a good chunk of your day to reveal still inconclusive results if the cancer isn't easy to spot or diagnose. An increase in visibility can be achieved with one researchers tiny coloured dot.

Shuming Nie, an associate professor in the Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University, has developed a colour-coding system for an almost unlimited number of molecules. Labelling proteins or genes with one of ten bright colours with ten levels of intensity sheds some light on the otherwise ambiguous inside world. Since this marking system relies on the markers of the cells involved, applying it to show cancers more visibly is not such a far stretch, causing cancer's sore thumb to stick out.

nanocrystal marker colour range

Nie attaches biological macromolecules, such as antibodies, to the zinc sulfide-capped cadmium selenide nanocrystals and applies them to cells and tissue samples in the laboratory. There, antibodies attached to the beads adhere to specific molecules, permitting identification of their location and determining the number of molecules present. Seen below is the difference.

immuno-flourescent coloured cancer cells

The quantum-dot technology could also prove useful for developing targeted, more effective cancer treatment, Nie says. Doctors have long been puzzled by the individual patient variation in the performance of medicines. The interaction between a drug and an individual's body chemistry may hold the answer, Nie says.

"We believe the reason why drugs work on some people and not others is because of their different molecular profiles - genes and proteins," he explains. "If you can make such a profile, you can probably determine if a drug is going to be effective for that person."

The test identifies not only molecular composition, but any of the abnormalities that may be within the cell. Applying this colour-profiling to any patient -- cancerous or not -- seems as though it would be extremely beneficial.

Previous to these research projects, diagnosing cancer relied heavily on X-Rays or snake-like endoscopes. Now, faster and clearer results seem to be on the way for diagnosing one of the greatly feared medical conditions, and all it's taken to see some home is a splash of colour.

Representing a Cause with Color

Over the years, a few colors have come to silently represent different cancer causes and those whom are uniting to fight against it.

Pink - Breast Cancer
Pink Ribbon Breast Cancer
One of the biggest Breast Cancer awareness organizations is Susan G. Komen for the Cure

Nancy G. Brinker promised her dying sister, Susan G. Komen, that she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer forever.

In 1982, that promise became Susan G. Komen for the Cure and launched the global breast cancer movement. Today, Komen for the Cure is the world's largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists fighting to save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find the cures. Thanks to events like the Komen Race for the Cure, we have invested nearly $1 billion to fulfill our promise, becoming the largest source of nonprofit funds dedicated to the fight against breast cancer in the world.

Light Blue - Prostate Cancer


Anthony Logistics - Blue Ribbon In the U.S., a blue ribbon is the symbol of prostate cancer awareness.
Prostate cancer occurs when the cells of the prostate begin to grow uncontrollably. More than 218,000 men in the United States will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year. When caught and treated early, prostate cancer has a cure rate of over 90%.

Anthony Logistics, personal care system of skin care, bath and body products for men donates a portion of all proceeds to Men's Prostate Cancer Research. This is a great example of a company embracing a cause and using the cultural colored symbol to promote their product and the cause.

Prostate Cancer Foundation
Yellow - Cancer in General


Livestrong Yellow WristbandIn 2004 the Lance Armstrong Foundation, released the yellow livestrong wristbands as a fund-raising tool.
Yellow was chosen for its importance in professional cycling, as it is the color of the yellow jersey worn by the leader of the Tour de France. So far there have been 70 million Livestrong bands sold to date. Individual bands sell for US$1 each.

Lance's celebrity status and his dominance in the sport of cycling helped the yellow livestrong wristbands become a widespread success. Bankers, Teachers, Athletes... Just about everyone had a livestrong wristband. Many other charities and organizations have followed Lance's lead, creating wristband in a rainbow of colors to support their causes.



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