How can Nanotechnology Be Used To Fight Cancer?

First, before I dive into how Nanotechnology is being used to kill Cancer, we must understand what cancer really is.

Cancer is essentially the abnormal growth of numerous cells. Cancer is not one disease but there are many diseases under this category. In all types of Cancer, some of the cells in the body begin to divide uncontrollably and can spread to different tissues. The human body is made up of trillions of cells-and Cancer begins forming in these cells.

Normally, human cells grow and divide to form new cells. When Cancer develops, this process changes. As cells become more and more abnormal, damaged cells survive when they should be dying, and new cells form when they are not needed. These cells keep dividing and eventually form tumors in the body.

An image that helps Differentiate Normal Cells Vs. Cancer Cells forming

What are Tumors?

Tumors are masses of solid extra tissue formed, which can either be cancerous (malignant) or noncancerous (benign). The only type of Cancer where there is no tumor formed is in blood cancers- such as Leukemia. Leukemia can usually be diagnosed with a simple blood test, while other Cancer tumors are the first symptoms that raise a red flag for Cancer.

Cancerous tumors are malignant. This means it can spread to nearby tissues rapidly. They eventually may form new tumors if not treated immediately.

The Emperor Of Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee: Novel About Cancer

The novel goes deeply into how Leukemia has been been the most researched Cancer that has brought on challenges to Oncologists. Leukemia is different from every other type of Cancer. Around the 1800s, Scientists realized that Leukemia, floating freely in the blood, could be measured as easily as blood cells by drawing a sample of blood or bone marrow and looking at it under a microscope.

The book also goes into detail about the very first treatments of Cancer used in the 19th century including Radical Mastectomies.

I truly enjoyed reading this biography of Cancer because of the personal narratives, and stories of patients the author described and or encountered. For example, how Radium was found to be a Cancer causing agent. They discovered this since Radium was being mixed with paint, and painters eventually grew to have signs of cancer. The tests eventually proved it was from the Radium, discovered by Marie Curie.

Treatments in the 18th century:

Cancer treatment has developed tremendously since the 18th century. Back then, there was no major treatment once Cancer has spread to different parts of the body, and they believed it was best to be left alone because could potentially be more harmful.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, numerous research experiments had begun new treatments emerged. Three surgeons stand out because of their contributions to the science of Cancer surgery: Billroth in Germany, Handley in London, and Halsted in Baltimore. Their work led to operations to remove the whole tumor, and sometimes the lymph nodes.

Treatments in the last decade of the 19th century included the famous Radical Mastectomy. This was developed by William Stewart Halsted, professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins University.

Until the end of the 20th century, diagnosing Cancer often required a surgery called “exploratory surgery.” This surgery opened the chest so the surgeon could take tissue samples to be tested for Cancer. Beginning in the 1970s, they developed numerous imaging tests to help identify Cancer in the body. For example, ultrasound (sonography), computed tomography (CT scans), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI scans), and positron emission tomography (PET scans). The advancement was that these scans replaced many of the exploratory surgeries needed.

Today, doctors use fiberoptic technology and Nano-sized cameras to look inside the body. In addition, Surgeons can operate using narrow surgical instruments that are inserted into the skin.

Example of what CT Scan Results look like

List of Therapies most common today: Click To Learn More

Using Nano-Technology To Detect Cancer Early On

Because of their small size, nanoscale devices can interact with molecules on both the surface and inside cells. Therefore, the idea to use this tiny technology to target cells with cancer could be beneficial. With Nanotechnology, researchers, doctors, and surgeons have the opportunity to access many areas of the body, and can eventually detect diseases early. They could also potentially deliver treatments needed through tiny nanodevices flowing through the body and into the cells.

“Nanomaterials are not only used in consumer products, but also in new and innovative medical treatments. Research has shown that nanoparticles can be used to damage and even destroy cancer cells from within”-European Chemicals Agency

But why do we need Nanotechnology if there are other treatments available?

Firstly, Nanotechnology is about working with matter at extremely small sizes. This is beneficial to Cancer research because scientists are able to work at a smaller level and see new things. Secondly, Nanotechnology makes it possible to engineer nanomaterials and make use of their special properties in cancer treatments.

How does it work in Cancer Treatments?

One of the ideas behind Nanotechnology in Cancer treatment is it tries to target the effect of anti-cancer drugs more precisely. More accurately targeted treatment prevents us from harming healthy cells. Therefore, the side effects are limited.

This has been tested on mice and proven successful. To inject a particular type of nanoparticle directly into the cancerous tumor. After the injection, a laser heats up the nanoparticles which then damages or even kills the cancer cells.

Early Diagnosing:

Nanotechnology manipulates molecules into devices that are able to latch onto Cancer cells during the early stages of Cancer. Using Nanotechnology could help researchers detect Cancer cells quicker when they are in small clumps.

“Here, when cancer cells (cell nuclei in blue) were treated with antibody-conjugated nanoparticles, the antibodies (red) and the nanoparticle cores (green) separated into different cellular compartments. Such knowledge may lead to improved methods of cancer detection in vivo as well as better nanoparticle-based treatments.” The National Cancer Institute

Tumor Detection and Nanotechnology

Usually, Nano-drug delivery is stopped by tissue barriers before the drug can reach the tumor site. These barriers can affect the transport of nanoparticles or nanomedicine into the tumor mass.

Therefore, researchers had to design a strategy to overcome these barriers to improve Cancer treatments.

The Enhanced Permeability and Retention Effect (EPR) is the build-up of numerous molecules of different sizes in the tumor. Through the EPR effect, nanoparticles larger than 8 nm (between 8–100 nm) can target tumors and freely pass through large areas.

The majority of current nanomedicines used for solid tumor treatment rely on the EPR effect to improve treatments.

Targeted Drug Delivery:

Nanotechnology is at the forefront of targeted drug delivery to kill Cancer cells.

For example, nanoparticles can be used for destroying tumors. This is done when Hyperthermia agents are injected into the tumor. These agents are then activated to produce heat and destroy Cancer cells locally either by magnetic fields, X-Rays, or light.

Adding existing chemotherapy drugs or genes into tumor cells via nanomaterials allows much more specialized delivery and eventually reduces the number of drugs absorbed by the patient. This is the better option since it leads to an equal impact with Nanotechnology than extremely strong doses of Chemotherapy.

This is just a list of types of Nano-Scale Delivery Systems used in the body

Recent News:

“Nanoparticles are delivered to the immunosuppressive (M2) macrophages inside the tumor (left). The macrophages take up the nanoparticles and the genetic instructions (mRNA) help them produce proteins (center) that turn them into inflammatory (M1) macrophages that can attack cancer cells (right).” -Fred Hutchinson Research Center

Our immune system cells usually do a great job of keeping us healthy, but sometimes things go wrong, and then Cancer forms.

Nanotechnology could be used by redirecting immune cells to attack and shrink tumors. A recent study was published by Nature Communications by scientists at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. These scientists tested mice and found that changing genetic code alters immune-suppressing cells into Cancer-fighting cells. They showed that if you reprogram these cells, it can help create an anti-cancer immune response that can eventually clear tumors in certain Cancers.


Targeted Drug Delivery and Tumor detection at an earlier phase is a benefit of using Nanotechnology.

Innovator at The Knowledge Society