Nanotechnology in cancer

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Nanotechnology offers the potential for detecting and killing cancerous tumors without altering healthy cells and without leaving negative side effects of conventional therapies, like chemotherapy and radiation.


Why should I be aware of this?

Nanotechnology tools can detect disease in a very small amount of cells or tissue, making it possible to run many diagnostic tests simultaneously as well as with more sensitivity.

For detection and diagnosis of cancer cells many nanotechnology tools will make it possible for clinicians to run tests without physically altering the cells or tissue they take from a patient. This is important because the samples clinicians use to screen for cancer are often in limited supply. Scientists would like to perform tests without altering cells, so they can be used again if further tests are needed.

Reductions in the size of tools mean that many tests can be run on a single small device. This will make screening faster and more cost-efficient.

All about nanotechnology in cancer

Most animal cells are 10,000 to 20,000 nanometers in diameter. This means that nanoscale devices (having at least one dimension less than 100 nanometers) can enter cells and the organelles inside them to interact with DNA and proteins. This enables nano tools to detect disease in a very small amount of cells or tissue and to enter and monitor cells within a living body. Miniaturization will allow the tools for many different tests to be situated together on the same small device.

Here’s an idea of how small nanoparticles are. Human hairs average between 60,000 and 120,000 nanometers in diameter while some of the particles doctors and engineers are developing for cancer treatment measure only a few dozen nanometers in length.

Many diagnostic tests can be run with nanotechnology to offer scientists a faster and more efficient means of diagnosis and treatment.

How it works

The technique works by inserting microscopic synthetic rods called carbon nanotubules into cancer cells.

When the rods are exposed to near-infra red light from a laser they heat up, killing the cell, while cells without rods are left unscathed.

How nanotechnology will fight cancer

  • Prevention of cancer cells: As the nanotechnology experts learn more and more, they can build nanoparticles that can work with a body's immune system to hone in on the cellular changes involved in carcinogenesis. Doctors and scientists are starting to identify the molecular changes that take place during carcinogenesis. In the process they may also discover ways to prevent the formation of cancer cells.
  • Early detection: In most cases by the time the patients come in for treatment they are already in advanced stage of cancer. Therefore, early detection is one of the most promising applications for nanotechnology in the field of oncology
  • Diagnosis with Quantum Dot: One potential tool doctors might use to diagnose cancer is the quantum dot. Quantum dots are tiny, luminescent particles of semiconductor material. The size of the quantum dot determines the color of light it emits. Once the nanoparticles identify the type of cancer, the doctor can determine the best course of treatment for the patient.
  • Nanosurgery: Nanotechnology won't just help doctors diagnose cancer. It will help them treat it. One of those treatments could be nanosurgery. One of the simplest forms of nanosurgery relies on nanoparticles carrying iron oxide.
  • Heating up cancer cells: Another way to heat up cancer cells is to fill them with carbon nanotubules half the width of a DNA molecule and excite them with a focused beam of near-infrared light. The light will cause the carbon nanotubules to heat up and kill cancer cells while passing through other tissue harmlessly.
  • Drug treatment: The after-effects of some drug treatments are so severe thatthe patient must seek treatment to manage them. With nanotechnology it is possible to design a particle that is small enough to penetrate a cancer cell and release just enough medicine to kill that cell alone. Millions of these nanoparticles may be injected into a patient and treat cancer on a cellular or even molecular level.
  • Gene therapy: Chemotherapy may not always be the best choice for cancer treatment, and traditional methods of operation cannot eliminate tumors. Some nanotechnology scientists are turning to another potential solution: gene therapy. In the United Kingdom, scientists are working on using nanoparticles to deliver strings of genetic material that bind to and destroy cancer cells while leaving healthy tissue alone.

90 degrees

The best can happen when nanoparticles can be designed and built to seek out biomarkers for cancer before carcinogenesis can occur, we have the potential to eliminate that type of cancer entirely. While we can reduce our risk to some kinds of cancer by leading healthy lifestyles and avoiding dangerous situations, other types of cancer are harder to avoid. Nanoparticles might be the answer to staving off these types of cancer. [1]


It may sound odd, but the dye in your blue jeans or your ballpoint pen has also been paired with gold nanoparticles to fight cancer. This dye, known as phthalocyanine, reacts with light. The nanoparticles take the dye directly to cancer cells while normal cells reject the dye. Once the particles are inside, scientists "activate" them with light to destroy the cancer. Similar therapies have existed to treat skin cancers with light-activated dye, but scientists are now working to use nanoparticles and dye to treat tumors deep in the body. [2]


  • Nanotechnology and Cancer
  • Nanotechnology vs. Cancer
  • Nanotechnology kills cancer cells


  1. Discovery Tech
  2. HowStuffWorks