Cancer is scary, and misdiagnosis can lead to further complications, making it difficult to treat. Microscopic examination of cells has enabled better diagnosis of various conditions and is proving radical in cancer diagnosis. It gives researchers and oncologists a better picture of cancer cells through in-depth studies. An adequate cancer diagnosis is important to understand the stage and condition of the tumor and provide the right treatment. But the question arises, “How to identify cancer cells under a microscope?”
This article has everything you need to know about cancer cells and how to identify them.
Table of Contents
What are Cancer Cells?
Cancer cells arise from abnormal cell division and multiplication resulting from aberrant mitosis. Cancer cells differ from normal cells; they have mutated genes that behave abnormally, acting as invasive activities. Some cancers are benign, while others are malignant.
Benign tumors stay in one place and are not dangerous; they can be removed through surgery. However, malignant tumors move from one body part to another, attacking more than one region. The uncontrolled multiplication of these cells harms the body and may lead to fatigue and altered metabolism.
Cancer cells are invasive and often fatal. Different cancer cells have their unique appearance. Thus, the diagnosis and treatment depend on their location, the cell type, and affect the patient’s body which helps find out the best way to spread and cure the disease.
Can you Observe Cancer Cells under the Microscope?
Yes, microscopes are excellent for observing cancerous cells as they help study the structure and size of the cells. They allow understanding the diagnosis and prognosis of specific cancer better considering the cells’ physical characteristics.
You can study the cancer cells in detail using different types of microscopes to get the required details, allowing surgeons to opt for an adequate treatment regimen.
How to Identify Cancer Cells Under a Microscope?
Oncologists and researchers identify cancer cells under the microscope depending on their shape, size, form, and cluttered appearance. These cells do not also perform apoptosis like normal body cells. The inability of these cells to self-destroy when needed leads to various abnormalities within the body.
Cancer cells may be much larger or smaller than normal cells with an abnormally shaped nucleus.
The fast multiplication and division of these cells leads to a higher amount of DNA and chromosomes in new cells. Thus, they may look too small, larger, or darker than normal cells.
How to Observe Cancer Cells Under a Microscope?
Observing cancer cells under a microscope is possible with various types, including light, confocal, and trinocular electron microscopes. However, remember that each observation technique requires specific staining and preparation methods to observe without damaging the cells.
Viewing cancer cells under a microscope allows you to study them on a cellular level and observe changes in the nucleus and cytoplasm. The color of the nucleus and cytoplasm depends on the stain you use. For example, Papanicolaou provides more prominent nucleus imaging and transparent cytoplasm. Meanwhile, Acridine Orange makes the nucleus appear green, while the cytoplasm is a duller and darker shade of green.
You will require the following to observe cancer cells under a confocal microscope:
- Carcinoma cancer cells specimen
- A phosphate buffer solution, 100% alcohol, 1% acetic acid, and distilled water
- A suitable dye such as Acridine Orange or Papanicolaou
- Microscope slides and cover slips
- Cotton swabs
Common Characteristics of Cancer Cells Observed under Microscopes
Oncologists study the cell’s shape and size, the size of the nucleus, and cell distribution in the tissue to identify cancer cells. The differences observed in cancer cells through microscopic biopsy are as follows:
Cell’s Shape and Size
The shape and size of the cancerous cells may or may not differ a lot from normal cells. These cells with altered structures seem larger or smaller than normal cells. These cells do not function the same way as normal cells and cannot perform apoptosis.
Size and Shape of the Nucleus
Besides the overall appearance of the cell, the nucleus of cancer cells also has a unique appearance and is not centralized. The nucleus in cancer cells is darker and larger than normal. Segmentation typically focuses on separating the cells from the background tissues.
Cell Distribution in Tissues
The distribution of cancer cells is higher than normal cells per unit area, facilitating the identification of cancer cells. They are also joined together more aggressively than normal cells.
How are Cancer Cells Graded?
Cancer grading refers to giving a grade or level to cancer to help other doctors identify how aggressive the cancer is. Cancers that resemble normal tissues majorly are low-grade, while those with majorly altered shape, size, and structure are high-grade cancers. High-grade cancers also spread faster and offer a poorer prognosis.
Advances in Cancer Cell Observation under Microscopes
Now that you know how to identify cancer cells under a microscope, knowing and adapting to the latest microscopic techniques can provide better diagnostic opportunities.
Light microscopy has advanced magnificently in the past few years, and oncology studies have become familiar with confocal or two-photon microscopy for 3D high-resolution tissue imaging. Furthermore, recent advancements offer quantitative phase imaging and label-free light scattering besides super-resolution microscopy that help analyze cancer pathogenesis and improve diagnosis.
The Bottom Line
Microscopes have played a major role in science and medicine, facilitating the diagnosis and treatment of various diseases, including cancer. Cancer cells appear differently under microscopes in size, shape, and distribution in an area. Oncologists can study cancer cells under microscopes to get information about the prognosis of the disease. If you wonder how to identify cancer cells under a microscope, they usually appear larger or smaller than normal cells, with a darker, decentralized nucleus. Light microscopy has advanced in the past years using confocal or two-photon microscopy for 3D high-resolution tissue imaging, label-free light scattering, and super-resolution microscopy.
What do the cells of a malignant tumor look like under a microscope?
Malignant cells look like an omelet in which the nucleus appears as the yolk while the cytoplasm gives the look of the white part or albumin. The nucleus is larger, darker than normal, and absent in the center.
What color is cancerous tissue?
The color of the cancer tissue majorly depends on the dye you use, but the Kidney Cancer Association has given a particular color to all cancer types according to the color theory. Green shows liver and gallbladder cancer and lymphoma; orange shows leukemia and kidney cancer. Meanwhile, purple signifies testicular, leiomyosarcoma, pancreatic, stomach, Hodgkin, and esophageal cancers.
How does the squamous cell carcinoma of the skin look?
People with squamous cell carcinoma of the skin have damaged, scaly patches of skin on areas with high UV exposure, including the scalp, face, and back of the hands. Larger tumors around the neck, head, ears, lips, and eyelids typically metastasize compared to smaller tumors. Oncologists can identify squamous cell carcinoma of the skin through skin changes, lumps in the skin, or a sore throat that does not heal.