Early cancer detection currently relies on screening the entire at-risk population, as with colonoscopy and mammography. Therefore, frequent, invasive surveillance of patients at risk for developing cancer carries financial, physical, and emotional burdens because clinicians lack tools to accurately predict which patients will actually progress into malignancy. Here, we present a new method to predict cancer progression risk via nanoscale nuclear architecture mapping (nanoNAM) of unstained tissue sections based on the intrinsic density alteration of nuclear structure rather than the amount of stain uptake. We demonstrate that nanoNAM detects a gradual increase in the density alteration of nuclear architecture during malignant transformation in animal models of colon carcinogenesis and in human patients with ulcerative colitis, even in tissue that appears histologically normal according to pathologists. We evaluated the ability of nanoNAM to predict "future" cancer progression in patients with ulcerative colitis who did and did not develop colon cancer up to 13 years after their initial colonoscopy. NanoNAM of the initial biopsies correctly classified 12 of 15 patients who eventually developed colon cancer and 15 of 18 who did not, with an overall accuracy of 85%. Taken together, our findings demonstrate great potential for nanoNAM in predicting cancer progression risk and suggest that further validation in a multicenter study with larger cohorts may eventually advance this method to become a routine clinical test.
©2015 American Association for Cancer Research.