Our cells convert pyruvate into lactate as part of the metabolic processes that produce energy and the building blocks for making new cells. Tumours have a different metabolism to healthy cells, and so produce lactate more quickly. This rate also varies between tumours, and between different regions of the same tumour.
The researchers showed that monitoring this conversion in real-time could be used to infer the type and aggressiveness of the breast cancer.
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The team now hopes to trial this scan in larger groups of patients, to see if it can be reliably used to inform treatment decisions in hospitals.
Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in the UK, with around 55,000 new cases each year. 80% of people with breast cancer survive for 10 years or more, however for some subtypes, survival is much lower.
Professor Charles Swanton, Cancer Research UK's chief clinician, said: "This exciting advance in scanning technology could provide new information about the metabolic status of each patient's tumour upon diagnosis, which could help doctors to identify the best course of treatment.
"And the simple, non-invasive scan could be repeated periodically during treatment, providing an indication of whether the treatment is working. Ultimately, the hope is that scans like this could help doctors decide to switch to a more intensive treatment if needed, or even reduce the treatment dose, sparing people unnecessary side effects".
About Cancer Research UK:
Cancer Research UK is the world's leading cancer charity dedicated to saving lives through research.
Cancer Research UK's pioneering work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has helped save millions of lives.
Cancer Research UK receives no funding from the UK government for its life-saving research. Every step it makes towards beating cancer relies on vital donations from the public.
Cancer Research UK has been at the heart of the progress that has already seen survival in the UK double in the last 40 years.
Today, 2 in 4 people survive their cancer for at least 10 years. Cancer Research UK's ambition is to accelerate progress so that by 2034, 3 in 4 people will survive their cancer for at least 10 years.
Cancer Research UK supports research into all aspects of cancer through the work of over 4,000 scientists, doctors and nurses.
Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK's vision is to bring forward the day when all cancers are cured.
About The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research: