Are there any ways we can detect single cancer cells?

It is my understanding that we cannot currently detect a single cancer cell in the body. Is this because they lack any distinguishing characteristic or because it’s a needle in a haystack? If it’s the latter, what are the distinguishing characteristics? Do we know?


If there were a single distinguishing characteristic that is present in 100% of cancer cells and absent in 100% of normal cells, we’d have cured cancer ages ago. So there’s that for starters. There are zillions of different kinds of cancer cells, marked with tons of different markers, and within each type of cancer, there are different cells, marked differently, and perhaps not marked at all.

In addition to that, even if such a marker existed, how would we possibly scan an entire human body and pick out that one particular marker on one particular cell? We could, conceivably, kill such a cell, but finding out that it was actually there would be much, much harder.

A very important area of cancer research is looking for methods to isolate metastatic cancer cells in the blood (a.k.a. CTC’s, circulating tumor cells). The problem is that these are exceedingly rare, like one in a million or worse. They can certainly be distinguished, for example by recently developed techniques for sequencing of single cells; but higher throughput methods are required. People are looking for distinguishing biomarkers that can be used to pull out only the cancer cells. These are exciting times.

There is something that does determine just cancer cells leaving normal cells alone. Its bloodroot, black salve, cancema and has been used to cure cancer in cancer sanatoriums in the late 1800s through I believe around 1940. Mohs surgery came from this, originally Dr, Mohs used sanguinaria canadensis (bloodroot) in a paste to show where the cancer perimeters were.
I have used this to remove a basel cell carcinoma that had been biopsied and diagnosed by a dermatologist. My mother had one like it and opted for surgery, mine was bigger and older than hers, She ended up with plastic surgery later,and a large scar. I have a small scar, no plastic surgery. plus I spent $50 for the salve and used about 25 cents worth. I spent around $500 going to the dermatologist and getting the biopsy, I had no insurance then. I have no idea what her Mohs surgery and then plastic surgery cost but Im sure that it would have been very hard for me to pay cash for.
I did a lot of research on this even ordering some of the original books that I could find on eBay. There was a picture of a woman with no nose, literally, on quackwatch that scared me into even more research.
The sanatoriums also removed cancerous tumors including breast cancer. Most people think this is bullshit but its isnt. They could make something with this that could identify and isolate cancer or pre-cancer cells it would seem to me.

If they’re all so different what is it that defines a cell as cancerous? In other words is there something that they all have in common with each other?

There are differentiating factors. Inside a cell that is cancerous, there are usually mRNA strands that are either corrupt (from a mutation) or they are the wrong kind for the cell type in question. (such as strands coding for telomerase which is what makes the cancer cells immortal).

Proposals have been made to somehow build a molecule that can enter every cell in an area of the body and bind to mRNAs present in those cells. If certain mRNAs are found in combination, the interaction would trip molecular “logic gates” that would cause the cell in question to be killed.

Experiments have been performed in lab animals, and the technique does work to an extent, I can’t remember the links.

Unfortunately, the way medical research is performed means that even if this method has the potential to provide a workable treatment for most cancers, there’s no hurry to make it work. In a rational world, all the money on cancer research would be pushed into approaches that at least have the potential for providing a workable treatment for most tumors. However, that’s just not how the money is doled out.

Black Salve is a con (the FDA lists it as such) - it just burns the skin tissue. If you are lucky, it might burn the cancerous tissue, but probably not (it may just be hidden by the scarring). Frederic Mohs used bloodroot paste as a sort of local anesthetic - the actual determination of the cancerous margins was done microscopically.

A single cell may have the potential to be cancerous, but you need a collective of mutated, malfunctioning, non-responsive replicating cells to have a tumor. A single mutated cell that does not divide is… nothing.

As a rule, tumors have the following characteristics:

  • Unregulated growth, beyond that which is expected for their original location/tissue/organ. This is caused by either genetic, epigenetic, or some other damage in cellular communication.

  • No useful purpose. Some benign masses that may be considered tumors are a response to infection, not really cancer.

  • Tumors do not pay attention to outside signals coming from other parts of the body, or may have developed mutations/pathways to evade them.

  • For malignant tumors especially: They can send out signals to other cells, particularly those responsible for making new vessels. Tumors need nutrients to survive and replicate, and being able to signal the body to create new vessels for them is important.

These are some general characteristics, but various tumors have different molecules and pathways that can be affected. End result may be the same (metastatic tumor), but the exact cocktail of cellular mess ups is different.

FWIW, and I don’t know how it relates, but my mom had a very serious autoimmune reaction to a precancer. It was that, actually very rare, autoimmune response that had the dr’s looking for cancer which they would have never have done (as my mom is doctor phobic and does not go regularly).

I don’t know how per-cancer related to cancer and how that relates to a single cell, but it is evident that the body has some way of identifying these things which may involved detection methods that we are still unaware of.

They all start growing like crazy, out of control.

Slightly less facetiously, the final product is the same - or at least similar - in that there are certain large-scale phenotypes that cancers have in common. Things like rapid uncontrolled growth, upregulated angiogenesis, etc, etc. The problem is that there are many many molecular pathways that lead to that common final state, and we need molecular markers to do what we want to do to cancer (ie kill it). We’re making progress at finding some markers of some pathways that are relatively common in some cancers, and that has lead to serious improvements in treatment. But still, cancer’s a complex bastard.

This is a very dangerous myth. Bloodroot and similar caustic salves dissolve away tissue indiscriminately. Besides the resultant pain and unnecessary scarring, use of these salves does not permit detection of microscopic extensions of tumor that can recur or metastasize. There is particular danger when people use them on pigmented lesions which they don’t realize are melanoma.

As for detecting individual tumor cells, tissue immunostains can do this - in fact there is a specific nodal stage for breast cancer specimens that relies on this localization in biopsy/excisional specimens.

A big problem is deciding what to do once you detect these rare tumor cells (in tissue or potentially in circulating blood). There is controversy over the significance of isolated tumor cells (ITCs) in “sentinel” lymph nodes removed in breast cancer surgery and whether their presence warrants further treatment (a larger “macrometastasis” will likely result in the patient getting a complete axillary node dissection whereas ITCs will not trigger this decision).

There are many herbal remedies, enzymes, and bio-nutritionals that the FDA doesn’t approve and some that they warn against because of misuse or that it may not work well with a particular persons bio chemistry.
There are also formulas that have been made up that are caustic. , this tells IMO the real Mohs story. The yearbooks the author refers to were really my deciding factor. These yearbooks I acquired two off eBay were basically written from post cards that Dr. Nichols sent to his former patients every year to see how they were. One of the yearbooks I have had a woman who had been treated for a cancerous tumor in her jaw and is buried in a cemetery in Texas. She had traveled to Nichols sanatorium in Missouri to have the tumor removed using bloodroot paste.
She died thirty years later from I believe heart failure. This isn’t the only person i researched but her name immediately caught my eye as its a prominent name in my hometown and my research would be easy on her.
Herbals do not get the fda approval, the cost for the research is astronomical,
The drug companys cannot recoup their money.
This webpage explains this using prunes as an example.
I feel very fortunate to have discovered information on bloodroot. I have no signs of any skin cancer at this time but assume I may later as my maternal grandmother was “what her doc described as a work in progress” meaning she had so many cancers on her face they were always cutting and freezing them off.
If the correct paste is made it is not caustic as it only affects the cancerous tissue.I first applied on my forearm with no reaction. My cancer was the size of an eraser head, it was twice as large underneath. I applied the paste and then either 12 or 24 hours later I took a q-tip and cleaned the paste off with hydrogen peroxide, the view-able cancerous part than became very irritated looking, I kept a bandaid over it because its important that the Eschar (scab) not be bumped or picked at. What finally fell off my nose was a scab with what appeared to be roots. I noticed that the top portion the roots looked shorter and I also still had the same tingly feeling as I had before when I pressed on that area. I waited a couple of weeks and applied it again to a larger area in that location. just a small area reacted to the paste and went through the above process. Since that time approx seven years the hole it left has filled in and after about two years you can barely see it. I have not had another one form yet.
Somehow the bloodroot “knows” and reacts only to cancer. IMO it seems that a drug company could use this along with something else where they could somehow patent it. The research would be interesting in how this seeks out irregular cells, as it also works on moles.
My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer almost twenty years ago, she refused the radical mastectomy, and ordered the AMAS test. This blood test basically told her she didnt have cancer. This was prior to me being able to do internet research and I would have discouraged her belief in this test verses the biopsy she had. She is still alive (76 yrs) and it is recorded in her medical records that she is a breast cancer survivor which makes her very angry. This is something that maybe should be looked into further.

The picture in your link is nothing like what my nose looked like. I would have to look further into where the picture came from as its possible that the mans whole nose was cancerous. The cancer on my nose(diagnosed by biopsy) that is now gone is not a myth. My mothers diagnosed breast cancer wasn’t a myth. I DO BELIEVE THERE ARE SOME VERY DANGEROUS PREPARATIONS OF ESCHORIC SALVES and do not recommend this to anyone unless they do their diligent research into which salve works. I know which one worked on me. If the top of my cancer had covered the area that large, I would have either went with traditional medicine or worked on a small area at a time. IMO he used a formula that was caustic to healthy skin. Pictures such as quack watch and your above link are what scared me away from just using it immediately which for me was better because I did more research. BTW when both my mother and I were diagnosed our cancers were in exactly in the same place except mine was around six years old and ten times larger Most all of my maternal grandmothers were in the same area and she barely had a nose left when she died and did not look like herself, I have always spent lots of time outdoors and have sunburned more times than I can remember. They did two swipes of Mohs surgery on my mother and the amount of skin they removed was much more than we would have thought when Mohs surgery was described to us. Even with plastic surgery performed on her, my nose looks almost like the cancer was never there.

This is a site dedicated to fighting ignorance, and you seem to be working for the other side. Bloodroot, as others have said, is not a cure for cancer in any way, shape, or form.

One of the Russian authors remarked that all happy families are alike, but each dysfunctional family is dysfunctional in its own special way (or something like that). Cancer is the same way.

Anyone who’s interested in questions like this would love “Cancer: an Evolutionary Legacy” by Mel Greaves. (I probably got the idea above from this book.) In it, he points out that 1 in every 100K cell divisions comes with a DNA mutation, so given the huge number of cells in a human body, the big surprise might be that we don’t all get cancer right away. He goes on to describe a number of mechanisms the body uses to fight this, and explains how to be malignant, a cancer cell has to have at least 4 or 5 different mutations to overcome them. From memory, and probably incomplete and inaccurate:

[li]The cell has DNA repair mechanisms[/li][li]There are internal limits on how many times a cell can divide before it terminates (e.g., teleomeres)[/li][li]Neighboring cells send signals that cause erratic/erroneous cells to commit suicide[/li][li]A tumor needs a blood supply, so the cell has to send signals to cause blood vessel growth[/li][li]Mobility: the cell has to circulate to spread (metastasis)[/li][/ul]
A cancer cell has to surmount all these hurdles. Some have a step ahead to begin with. For example, stem cells don’t have the limits on replication. Lymph and blood cells circulate.

For any hurdle the cell has to mutate to get over, there are numerous different ways to overcome it. For example, to ignore both external and internal signals to commit suicide (apoptosis, second ‘p’ is silent), it might have a break in the apoptosis mechanism itself, or else it could have multiple flaws in the signaling paths from the various conditions that should trigger it. Quite a number of different kinds of mutations could allow a cell to signal that blood vessel growth is required. Etc., etc.

It’s great news that there’s progress in this area. It’s clearly a difficult task, since many cells function perfectly despite DNA mutations. My guess is that a method like this in a healthy individual would have a high number of false positives. In a person who’s already metastatic, the positives would be significant to a high probability, but it seems it would be too late. Fortunately, smarter people than I are working on it and aren’t thwarted by the difficulty.

The problem is, no, there’s no “True Scotsman” test for cancer cells, outside of seeing them create a tumor.


So how do you determine “the correct paste”? Mix it with cannabis oil?

In regard to the OP, here’s a review about circulating tumor cells mentioned above in the thread:

In case this comment confuses new readers, it’s a comment on the last person to come in sharing a miracle treatment. His magical cure for cancer was cannabis oil.

Nice post, but I have to nitpick the bolded part. The actual mutation rate is on the order of one per 10^10 individual copied nucleotides, once various error repair mechanisms do their job. With 3x10^9 base pairs in the human genome, there is a new mutation in every third cell division, on average. The mutation rate is highly variable between particular genomic regions, cell types, and environmental conditions. In many cancers, there is an early mutation in a DNA repair mechanism, which causes “hypermutation” in the cancer cells.